Kenya: Reproductive Rights Bill Sparks Abortion Debate

A bill proposed by Kenyan women's rights groups, which would make it easier to have an abortion, has re-sparked the debate about legalizing abortion. The procedure is currently illegal in Kenya, unless the pregnant woman's life is in danger. Many religious leaders and politicians in the country have spoken out against this attempt to change the abortion law.

Women's rights groups launched a campaign earlier this year to ensure that reproductive and sexual health care in Kenya is accessible, available, and affordable. Part of this campaign is the proposed Reproductive Health and Rights Bill 2008, which was drafted by the Kenyan chapter of the Federation of Women Lawyers and the Coalition On Violence Against Women. The bill addresses various reproductive health issues, including a push for easier access to abortions. It proposes, for instance, that a statement by a pregnant woman or any other proof that her pregnancy is due to sexual assault, rape, defilement or incest guarantee a legal abortion.

Arthur Okwemba, writing for the African Woman and Child Features Service, summarizes the abortion debate. He says:

“Abortion is still a hush-hush issue in Kenya. But despite laws, which restrict the termination of pregnancy, illegal abortion continues in this East African nation unabated. There are no easy answers to this emotive issue. On the one side, there are those who argue for the woman's right to choose to have a baby or not, while others, using religion as the base, argue for the rights of the fetus.”

Women's rights groups argue that access to abortion is a health issue too, since many women undergo unsafe abortions. Although accurate statistics are hard to obtain, since abortion is largely illegal, a national study showed that about 300,000 abortions are performed each year in Kenya, causing an estimated 20,000 women and girls to be hospitalized with related health complications. This translates into about 800 abortions a day and the death of 2,600 women every year. Another report estimates that more than 40 percent of Kenya’s maternal mortality rate is due to unsafe abortions.

To help protect women's health, morpheus revolutions points out that doctors sometimes take matters into their own hands.

“Kenyan doctors often take a very ‘liberal’ approach to the interpretation of Kenya's restrictive abortion policy, with the knowledge that if they do not, women will be forced to conduct unsafe abortions that place their lives at higher risk.”

The kenyanobserver argues that the abortion law doesn’t make sense, and that it's been written mostly by and to protect men. He says:

“Kenya has one of the most restrictive abortion laws even as the rest of the world relaxes those laws yet abortion rates are increasing and becoming more dangerous as women take greater risks to complete their abortions. A visit to ward 1D in Kenya where women end after botched abortions is a sobering evidence of this. I’m sure that there are legitimate reasons for restricting abortion. The thing I don’t understand is the hypocrisy by the government on this issue given these sobering statistics. Did you know that a person found helping to complete an abortion in Kenya can be subject to capital punishment? What about the men who forcibly rape young girls, relatives and mentally retarded women all over the country?”

MUNGA, blogging on CONTROVERSIAL, says the solution is to legalize the procedure.

“Abortion in our country Kenya is a never ending story. First you have the police going after doctors who allegedly have performed the ‘vice’ being imprisoned. However, the solution to the problem in my opinion is not to go after the doctor's, after all they are trying to get a sense of livelihood though through the wrong means. As such I would go for pro life and pro choice, let the ‘pregnant couple’ decide what to do about their situation. This will only be possible if abortion is legalised in Kenya.”

However, other bloggers agree with Kenyan politicians and religious leaders who oppose a less restrictive abortion law. John Smeaton, blogging for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, says the bill should not be passed.

“The bill, if passed, will promote and allow easy access to abortion on demand, with virtually no safeguards to protect unborn children.

Under the subtle guise of ‘reproductive rights’ language, the bill declares ‘safe and accessible abortion-related care’ as a reproductive right. Abortion can be permitted provided that ‘the continued pregnancy would pose a risk of injury to the woman’s physical or mental health.’ This will, in effect, allow abortions on demand.”

Arthur Okwemba, writing for the African Woman and Child Features Service, warns that regardless of which side of the abortion debate Kenyans support, the issue has to be dealt with — it won't just go away.

“Recently the Kenyan press sensationalized, even using pictures, the death of 15 fetuses apparently due to illegal abortions. The public shrieked and public condemnation of abortion was rife. But this response will not discourage the young women, who saw no other choice open to them, from repeating the act again.”

Photo of Positive Pregnancy Test by Amber B McN on Flickr.


  • “It proposes, for instance, that a statement by a pregnant woman or any other proof that her pregnancy is due to sexual assault, rape, defilement or incest guarantee a legal abortion.”

    A step in the right direction for women. Although I’m ardently pro-choice, I do understand some issues surrounding the debate, but not this one. No woman who has been raped should be forced to go through a second traumatic experience.

  • […] Kenya: Reproductive rights bill sparks abortion debate – “A bill proposed by Kenyan women’s rights groups, which would make it easier to have an abortion, has re-sparked the debate about legalizing abortion.” More about African women’s health for my readers. […]

  • Elsie Oyoo

    I think that abortion should remain illegal. Firtsly, the argument that we’re left behind by an increasingly liberal world cannot hold. If everyone were to decide to go to war, would Kenya also feel left out? secondly, there is the untold story of so-called legal and safe abortions. There are emotional, social and spiritual scars that no doctor, no matter how qualified can prevent that are caused by abortions. Attention should also be paid to the fact that in world history, legalising abortion and euthanasia are linked to other acts of lack of respect for human life e.g. genocides or holocausts. Issues of sanctity of life are very inter-related and who is to know where to draw the line?

  • […] federation-of-women-lawyers, kenya, pro-choice, reproductive-health-and-rights-bill Kenya is reconsidering its anti-abortion law, which dates from 1897.  Abortion is common in Kenya but, mainly because it is illega, many […]

  • Elle

    I am a woman and am pro-choice. I think the people who oppose this law have to ask, is the right to sexual and reproductive health for women a human right? If it is (and Kenya – the state, seemed to think so when it signed international commitments to promote these rights) then unsafe abortions ought to be stopped and the only way to do so is to make abortion services legal so that women can access them in safety. The question is no longer whether women abort. It is that they do so under very harmful circumstances because the law is prohibitive. Running away from abortion is like pretending teens don’t have sex.

  • Muna Williams

    Abortion is killing. It is killing of an inocent life. In case of rape, the criminal is not the human being growing in the womb, but the rapist.

    The Child in the womb of the mother should be given his or her own right to live. She or he is a Kenyan citizen.

    Every human life starts at conception, is sacred, and it demands respect.

  • Abortion should remain illegal. If the claim is that pregnancy occurring as a result of rape should be terminated, then i think the target is wrong. The fetus has done no wrong. Nature simply took its course. It is the rapist who deserves to die but not the fetus. The other thing is safe and unsafe abortion. I think we also need to ask how safe the fetus will be whether a woman has access to safe abortion or not.

  • joy

    abortion shd be legal, coz its the woman’s right to bodily self determination. whats the pint of bringing forth kids we cannot afford to take care? i mean if u smoked, altho u knew it was cancerous then contracted cancer cells growing in your lungs, shd we ignore and force you to keep it because u were defiant? of course no! we shd help u get rid of it to save your life. same to abortion, lets not force things that occur by accident. as long as it is done responsibly, i am pro child.

  • Itote Waruhio

    Abortion is murder!It is killing an innocent person,a blessing from God.It is interfering with Gods work.It should never be legalized,otherwise it will be legalizing killing.

  • Tekla

    Yes its wrong to you but this doesnt stop a woman from going thru it. How does it help u that she dies procuring an abortion that kills her. isnt it reasonable to atleast save her life? Accept the reality, ur position on this matter does not influence another person’s decision on it. Let her decide and God be the judge. Why do u feel responsible for a choice that someone else has made????!!! No human being is right to condemn another because u dont walk in their shoes so just keep ur judgements to urself.

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