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Scenes : On the Front Lines: Vignettes From Four Nations

In every abortion, of course, there is a baby that, for whatever reason, will go unborn. The word (from the Latin aboriri : to miscarry) covers both the furtive operation carried out in a dirty cellar in the heart of teeming Cairo and what a poor, illiterate Latin American peasant woman pathetically prays will happen when she quaffs a dose of herbal tea.

Here are Times reports from several nations:

Kenya

As one West African proverb puts it, “Pregnancy is a gamble, and giving birth is a life-and-death struggle.” Sadly, in much of the continent, that wisdom is all too contemporary. According to Dr. Wangoi Njau of the Kenyan Center for the Study of Adolescence, the problem is the worst in rural areas where back-yard abortions are the most primitive. His statistics are shocking:

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* In Kenya, where abortions are legal only if the mother’s life is threatened, complications resulting from illegal abortions account for more than half of all gynecological hospital admissions.

* Up to half of deaths of mothers in childbirth are associated with abortion complications.

The risks, however, must be compared to the alternative: Kenya has one of the highest birthrates in the world. Its farmlands are already so crowded as to create social strife and frequent violence. And unemployment in the cities is dishearteningly high.

Overall, Kenya’s birthrate has plummeted from 7.7 children per mother in 1985 to 5.4 in 1993--the result of contraception and abortion. But even more grisly methods are sometimes used to keep family size down. Each week, Nairobi’s newspapers carry stories of newborn infants found dead and abandoned in sewer trenches, back alleys and trash bins.

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