Can we allow women to control their own bodies? By Dr. Leonard Sowah

Abortion in Ghana Barriers to healthcare cultural sensitivity gender equity Global Health government and politics Healthcare Equity Pregnancy Reproductive Rights Sexual Health society and health women's health

The examination room gets cleaned at least 3 times a day however the ever pungent smell of blood appears to defy all the efforts of our ever zealous cleaning staff. The smell was strong and overpowering. Even as I entered the curtained area of the room which afforded some privacy for our clients I could tell there was something different about this lady’s condition. This was not the run of the mill incomplete and threatened abortions that flood our emergency room all day long.

The malodorous aroma from this woman required me to hold my breath as l quickly did my physical exam. When I did the speculum exam and had the nurse assisting me position the outside light source to direct the rays of light onto the cervix I discovered the source of the stench. I could vaguely make out the end of a small pencil sized twig lodged deftly in the patient’s cervical opening. The diagnosis has been made, “cervicitis from a foreign body in the cervical canal”. The key piece of the medical history which my patient had failed to mention was the primary cause of her problem.

The question was “how did it end up there?”

Pelvic-Exam (1)
Illustration of the female reproductive tract showing the cervix

I know some really imaginative friends of mine have already conjured up interesting scenes of some real kinky sex situations resulting in this lady’s predicament. Fortunately or must I say unfortunately my knowledge of my environment spared me that albeit pleasant journey into the darker more interesting recesses of my mind to obtain some relief from the harsh reality of this case.

I requested for a few routine tests including a pregnancy test and lo and behold it came out positive.

Working in the gynecology emergency of Korle-bu Teaching Hospital in Accra was both a humbling experience and a lesson in the art of deceit. By the time you spent a month or more there a very important lesson in medicine would be burnt deep into your psyche; believe your patient but every relevant piece of information needs to be checked and confirmed. Though I used the word deceit earlier, the more appropriate term is obfuscate since most untruths and important omissions that one experiences in that environment are part of an effort to maintain a sense of self modesty. Modesty being an important requirement usually only of women in excessively religious societies.

As far as I can remember of this 20 year old experience, this attempt by this lady to terminate her pregnancy was unsuccessful and she hopefully lived to tell the tale. Possibly, 19 year old somewhere would never know how close they came to joining the hordes of human embryos that never developed to become babies!!

This is a story that most of us with any amount of life experience can relate to. The gift of creating and nurturing a life is a wonderful gift in every way. Both the most mundane atheist and the religiously devout can write profound poems about the processes which for some includes feelings of love and the stirrings of sexual attraction that grips us all periodically.

These are natural feelings that few among us understand or even care to explore with any introspection; but almost all of us give in to these urges and enjoy the all encompassing joys and exhilarating relaxation that the sex act brings. Biologically this very enjoyable act of sex also creates babies.

Couple.jpg

Whilst most of us want babies we do not hope to create babies every time we have sex, this brings up a very real fact of life which unfortunately we all have to contend with. Our women usually shoulder the greater burden of this responsibility. One saying that is always applicable is this;

“To those that shoulder great responsibility must be given greater power”. 

This morning this is all I would like to say to our Alabama legislators who seek to take away from women the power to control their bodies. In a world where there is some fairness, men who legislate against choice have no right to claim they are pro-life because they show no appreciation of the complexities of life.

Dr. Leonard Sowah is an Internal Medicine Physician in Baltimore, Maryland

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