Dr. Marius Pienaar, Feb. 18. announced he is hanging up his stethoscope on May 31, to enter retirement. (Photo: supplied)

Dr. Marius Pienaar, Feb. 18. announced he is hanging up his stethoscope on May 31, to enter retirement. (Photo: supplied)

Prince Rupert OBGYN said overturning of Roe vs. Wade is a disaster in the happening

It’s a sad, sad day for women - Dr. Marius Pienaar

Last week’s watershed overturning of the Roe v. Wade abortion decision brought back flashbacks of the horrors in women’s health care during days of apartheid for Dr. Marius Pienaar.

“This is not a good day for women. It is a sad, sad day,” he told The Northern View on June 24, a day on which he said women’s health care was kicked back half a century in the U.S.

“It’s a disaster. It’s a disaster in the happening. We’ll all see it in the next few years when we get the reports on how badly it’s going.”

Pienaar, an obstetrician and gynecologist who has lived in Prince Rupert since leaving South Africa in 1992, and had a shortlived retirement in 2021, said there was never a day, let alone one shift where the on-call doctors at his Cape Town training hospital did not see medical atrocities from the results of abortion being illegal in the county.

“There was not one day that you didn’t get a whole bunch of women coming in with septic abortions from backstreet procedures. And many young ladies in their 19s and 20s, during my years, lost their uterus due to sepsis,” he said of his early days in women’s health care.

Pienaar said more than 30 years later, he still remembers his first loss, one 19-year-old woman who died from the results of a backstreet abortion.

“That was the day that I decided one day, when it’s legal, I will be providing this service. Whether I agree with it or not is irrelevant. The alternative is horrible, just horrible.”

After leaving full-time practice last year, Pienaar has returned to offering women’s health services in underserviced and remote areas because the need is too great not to do anything. He explained that he sees history in South Africa repeating itself in the U.S., where the more affluent and privileged will be able to obtain termination procedures, but the less fortunate will not.

“Unfortunately, we know exactly the same will happen in the United States. The rich girls will go to another state where they will get their abortions and those that can least afford it will be stuck or will be having a pregnancy they just can not afford to have — or they will be going backstreet.”

In S.A., he said women would travel to the United Kingdom to obtain services, but most of the population could not do that due to socio-economic restrictions. He believes many American women who can afford it will travel to states where abortion will not be outlawed or to Canada, and those without financial resources will suffer.

“Those women are desperate. Women are desperate. We know it. They will do anything to stop those pregnancies,” adding he saw the pain and sorrow first hand and lived through it.

“I was so relieved to be in Canada, in a country where a woman can make her own choice. And she can decide whether she wants to or doesn’t want to continue a pregnancy … and not risk the loss of a uterus that will become septic.”

While there are never enough services, Pienaar said women in the B.C. North Coast will see no difference as the services are “solid”.

He said the attitudes are different in the North, but even in the North, they can differ from location to location. During his career, he said he had one ardent anti-abortion supporter in Prince Rupert, however further down Hiway 16 was different.

“In Smithers, it was terrible. There was much more protest over there. I don’t see much protest locally. There will always be those who are against abortions, and I accept that. But for at least those who want it, the service must be available safely. Women’s health trumps everything else – it’s safety.”

Pienaar said the provincial system is “very strong and quite robust” with strong organizations and strong people behind them.

While The Northern View requested an interview with a Northern Health Authority OBGYN, However, Communications Manager Eryn Collins replied the request could not be accommodated. She did state Northern Health is committed to ensuring everyone needing to access health services can do so safely and with respect for their privacy.

She also stated that Northern Health, with the support of a network of physicians across the North, provides a range of services and advice for pregnant women, including abortion services.

“It is important that women understand all the options available to them and have the appropriate supports in place for their decisions. This can include questions or requests for an abortion, and they can be referred to an appropriate physician or medical clinic,” she stated in a June 14 email.

“Individual physicians decide if they will provide abortion services, and if they do, what types they wish to provide,” she stated.

Collins said women may call the Pregnancy Options Line for referral to a doctor in their area and explained the Medical Services Plan covers abortion services. The procedure can be performed in a clinic or a healthcare setting in the North.

“For more information, women should talk to their health-care provider or call the Pregnancy Options line to discuss their individual circumstances and options. These would include medical or surgical options, and so access and any need to travel would depend on individual circumstances.”

Pienaar said two significant breakthroughs in women’s health have helped women of the North. The first was the Mirena Intrauterine Device (IUD), introduced more than 20 years ago.

“Our teen pregnancy rate and abortion rate dropped dramatically. It was reliable long-acting contraception that teenagers got. Suddenly the abortion need and the teenage pregnancy rate dropped dramatically. The numbers were fantastic,” Dr. Pienaar said.

He said the second breakthrough was more than six years ago when medical abortion pills became available for women in their first nine to ten weeks of pregnancy. He said he is able to offer this service with more accessibility to women in remote communities, in the privacy of their own homes, without the need for surgical intervention or operating room visits.

“That is probably going to continue in the United States because it can be done remotely,” he said.

“I don’t always understand the American mentality. I am stunned at how conservative America is. I never knew it. Before I came to North America, I mean that’s long ago, but I never knew that the Americans can be so damn conservative. Thank God, the Canadians are not like that,” the women’s health expert said.