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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.

14 comments

  • […] Global Voices offers more information about the abortion law in Kenya. […]

  • Elsie

    To respond to Tekla, I feel for women who find themselves in that situation…I just think there are better solutions for both the mother and the child.
    I’ve been doing some reading and this is what I’ve discovered. Firstly, there’s a doctor in USA called Nathan Benardson who was one of the biggest pushers for its legalisation. After watching an ultra-sound, he could not in good conscience, continue to carry out abortions. He said in his book, that in their pro-abortion campaign, they falsified many statistics and bought out the media. I wonder if that is also happening in Kenya.
    Moreover, he said that after its legalisation, abortion was still sub-standard in parts of USA because the doctors involved in it were concerned more about making money than the health of the mother. So they would do it partially then tell the ladies that if they spotted, they should go to a real hospital.

    Secondly, I know of a lady in Kenya who went to a Marie-Stoppes Clinic and changed her mind about the abortion but was tied to the bed and the abortion was carried out anyway….is there really care for the choice of a woman here?

    Margaret Sanger, one of the biggest advocates of contraceptives and eugenics, thought abortion was a very good way of controlling the numbers of “undesirable populations.” Why is it that its African-Americans and Latinos who are most told about abortion yet they are minorities in USA? For their own good? Of course not! Its a means of population control. If population should be controlled at all costs, why is Europe PAYING people to have kids? Why is China one of the fastest growing economies? It has one of the most valuable resources: people.

    I’ve read Reproductive Health Bill and what it provides for is the use of tax-payers’ money to procure abortion on demand…neatly packaged but that’s what it is. And doctors must perform the abortion or refer the lady to someone who can whether they believe its right or not. Is their freedom respected here?

    Lastly, there is a hierarchy of rights. Reproductive Health is a right in as far as women should be healthy and have access to pre-natal and post-natal care etc. But its sad that the womb, the place that should nurture a person when she or he is most vulnerable, should be her/his grave, place of death.

    When we hear debates, lets not take them at face value but think critically about the deeper reasons for why people advocate for things or not.

  • Salome Daigre

    Women should be empowered and educated, as long as there is no free contraception for women in Kenya and the right to prosecute men who are abusive. The need to have an abortion will always be there. Women are known to be raped by their husbands even when they say no, because they are considered a piece of property in Kenya.

  • Gladys I.

    Abortion should never be legal, and women should avoid it no matter the temptation to abort. My mother, was orphaned at age 11. Since she and her 6 sisters had no brother, their mother, who was only 32 when she got widowed, was getting disinherited of her land for not having a son. My mother, who has a phyical disability, got assulted when she was 18 and got pregnant. Think of it: a teenager, disabled, orphaned, raped, with a mother on the verge of homelessness (their home was burnt down, rebuilt, burned again). Did she not have every right to abort? Well, she didn’t and that child is me. I’m now a career woman, in mid 40s with a family of my own. My mother, now in her mid 60s went to college, thanks to my widowed grand mother who looked after me. Mum became a teacher got married, had many more children and she and my foster father are happy grandparents. She’s forever thankful for the difficult choice she made. Please note: there are no illegitimate children; only illegitimate parents. A pregnancy lasts 9 months at most. A baby can be given up for adoption, looked after by family or even good samaritans. An abortion lasts a short while, but the emotional torment and mourning is forever. Say NO to abortion.

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