Termination-of-pregnancy rights and foetal interests in continued existence in South Africa: the choice on termination of pregnancy act 92 of 1996

31 January 2013

The aim of this article is to demonstrate that, although South Africa has permissive termination-of-pregnancy legislation, to the extent that women can terminate firstand second-trimester pregnancies on demand and for socio-economic reasons, foetal interests are in fact taken into account. The system of female reproductive rights progressively shelters foetal interests, albeit to a limited extent. South Africa is in the process of successfully balancing the conflicting notions of female reproductive rights and foetal interests. The article discusses the "right to terminate a pregnancy" with reference to the Constitution, the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act 92 of 1996 and relevant case law. On the topic of foetal interests, the article looks at the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act as legislative recognition of foetal interests since a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy is progressively limited as the pregnancy advances beyond the second trimester. The value of dignity justifies the recognition of foetal interests. Further, accepting that the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act limitedly protects foetal interests based on the value of dignity, the article questions why South Africa permits elective second trimester termination of pregnancies? Research indicates a need for second trimester terminations and the article discusses the position of a number of women seeking second trimester terminations. The article draws to an end by looking at the case of S v Mshumpa as an example of the balancing process that is needed when dealing with female reproductive rights and foetal interests. This article demonstrates the constitutional setting of women's termination-of-pregnancy rights on the one hand, and foetal interests on the other. Further, it illustrates that these conflicting positions, rather than being deepened, are in fact balanced by legislation and relevant case law.