Introducing the South African pro-life struggle

Thinking about getting involved in the prolife struggle?  This pamphlet will help you get started by understanding the present South African situation and the history behind it.

South African Pro-life History

  • The pre-1975 common law forbade abortion in all circumstances, but in practice this was not applied when the mother’s life was in danger.
  • In 1975, the Abortion and Sterilization Act was passed which legalised abortion for restricted reasons: risk to mental or physical health of mother; rape; incest; or handicapped baby.  Churches protested this restricted legalisation.  Some hospitals interpreted the law liberally to allow easy access to abortion.  About 1000 babies per year were killed.
  • In 1996, the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed, effectively legalising abortion on demand until halfway through pregnancy and for restricted reasons after this.  The law was implemented on 1 February 1997 (now an annual day of protests).  After this, over 30 000 babies per year were killed.
  • There was much resistance from healthworkers to assisting with abortions – a struggle that continues.
  • Public hearings are held to review implementation of the law every two years.

Activity Around the Country

The most strongly pro-life province in South Africa is Kwa-Zulu Natal, with the most pro-life demonstrations and fewest abortions.  Few hospitals do abortions and private clinics have regular protests.  Gauteng is the worst province, with the most abortions.

Annual events

Regular dates for pro-life protests are:

  • National Day of Repentance (1 February).
  • Sanctity Life Sunday (closest 1 February).
    • Human Rights Day (21 March), where the abuse of the unborn’s rights is protested.
    • International Life Chain Day (first Sunday in October).

Public Opinion

Nine out of ten South Africans believe abortion is wrong, which makes us one of the most strongly pro-life countries in the world.

Women are more pro-life than men and black African people more pro-life than those of European origin.  The pro-abortion minority are mostly educated whites with English as their first language.

Christian Churches

The Evangelical Alliance, Roman Catholic Church and African Independent Churches strongly oppose abortion.  A few denominations are officially pro-abortion, although many of their congregations are pro-life.  Many university theological faculties are pro-abortion.  In 1999, the ‘Rustenburg II Christian Leaders Declaration’ disappointed many by taking a weak stand on the issue.  Many churches contribute to the struggle by observing Sanctity of Life Sunday and supporting Crisis Pregnancy Centres.

Christian Service Agencies

The leading prayer movements ‘NUPSA’ and ‘Transformations’ encourage regular prayer for an end to abortion.  Christian radio stations, under the ‘Association of Christian Broadcasters’, help by airing pro-life

educational advertisements and interviews as do leading magazines ‘Today’ and ‘Joy’.  Various Christian healthworkers’ societies take a strong stand against abortion.  Minority religious groups such as Muslims and Jews also strongly oppose abortion.


The English print media, under ‘Independent Newspapers’, with the exception of Kwa-Zulu Natal, seldom publish the pro-life view in articles, letters or at times even paid advertisements.  They regularly advertise abortion clinics.  The Afrikaans press is fairer.  On television, the state owned SABC generally punts the ruling party pro-abortion view and excludes all else.  ETV, the private channel, has fairer coverage.

Pro-life Organisations

Pro-life organisations are united under the umbrella of the National Alliance for Life (

  • Pro-life South Africa the first group.  Focus: lobbying & education.
  • Doctors for Life and Christian Medical Fellowship defend healthworkers.
  • Christians for Truth is strongest in Kwa-Zulu Natal, with branches elsewhere.  Focus: protests (
  • The Right to Live Campaign: unites Kwa-Zulu-Natal Catholics.
  • Catholic Action Life League (CALL).  Focus: pickets abortionists in Cape Town.
  • Focus on the Family.  Focus: education
  • The Christian Lawyers’ Association.  Focus: leads court challenges.
  • Africa Cares for Life.  Focus: co-ordinates welfare work (e.g. counselling mothers and arranging adoption) through pregnancy centres often linked to local churches.


The South African Law Commission has suggested legalising euthanasia, but the government has not acted on this.

Opposition Organisations

Pro-abortion groups mostly work under the umbrella of the Reproductive Rights Alliance.  They are funded from overseas.  An unusual number of their leaders are foreign and/or lesbians.  Most private abortions are done in the Maries Stopes clinics.  Pro-abortion groups include Planned Parenthood, Love Life, IDASA, the Womens’ Legal Centre and numerous university faculties.

Political Party Positions

The ACDP is the most vocally pro-life party.  The NNP and VF oppose abortion.  The DA has mixed views, although the old DP was pro-abortion.  The IFP is pro-life, although some voted pro-abortion.  The ruling ANC forced their MPs to vote for abortion in 1996.

Strategy and Goals

Since most South Africans are already pro-life, the challenge of the pro-life movement is: to win over leaders in politics, media and medicine; to strengthen resolve among Christians; to reduce the number of hospitals doing abortions; and to encourage more mothers to choose alternatives.

International Situation

South America and the Middle East are the most pro-life areas, with Asia, North America and Europe mostly pro-abortion.  Abortion was mostly legalised undemocratically: by Secular Humanist court edict, or by Nazi or Communist regimes.  China is the most pro-abortion in the world.  Africa is a pro-life battleground, although only South Africa and Mozambique have legal abortion on demand.