Churches in Malawi back proposed abortion bill

Good tidings! The mainstream religious communities in Malawi have endorsed the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill. Oh yes, genuine signatures of religious leaders who okayed the bill are in a report by the Law Commission.

The endorsement has made the proposed Bill a consensus legislation as it was drafted with input from religious leaders. In case you are not aware, the Special Law Commission which drafted this bill had representatives of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, Malawi Council of Churches and Muslim Association of Malawi.

The representatives of these religious groupings did not only contribute to the drafting of the proposed Bill but also appended their signatures on the report the Law Commission released. In other words, the recommendations have the seal of approval from the religious mother bodies.

Is it strange that some clerics are making so much noise about the proposed legislation? It is not. Our Lord, Jesus Christ already warned us about the hypocrites and false prophets of the last days. And here in Malawi, they are in abundance.

By the way, what’s the background of the proposed abortion law?

For a long time, government had been bemoaning the high prevalence of maternal mortality in Malawi and had identified unsafe abortion as one of the contributing factors to this problem. The death of women due to pregnant-related causes prompted stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health, to call for a review of the law on termination of pregnancy.

In addition to this call, two separate special Law Commissions, the special Law Commission on the Review of the Penal Code and the special Law Commission on the Development of the Gender Equality Statute, made policy recommendations to government to empanel a special Law Commission to review the law on termination of pregnancy and possibly recommend the enactment of a separate law that lays out the procedure for legal and safe termination of pregnancies in Malawi.

To that effect, a special Law Commission was appointed under section 133 of the Constitution to carry out the necessary law reform work on the law on termination of pregnancy. Membership of the Commission comprised representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Judiciary, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, Malawi Council of Churches, Muslim Association of Malawi, Traditional Leaders, the Law Society, Ministry of Justice and the Malawi College of Medicine. The Commission conducted a thorough desk research on the subject matter, undertook a programme of consultations both locally and abroad and conducted focus group discussions in ten districts and held three regional workshops in three cities.

Following that participatory and inclusive consultations, the Commission made key reform areas. The current position of the law is that abortion can be performed to save the life of the pregnant woman through a surgical operation.  Having considered all the information and literature on matters of unsafe abortion, the Commission resolved and agreed that the law on abortion should be liberalised (that is, conditional relaxation of the restrictions) as opposed to decriminalisation to cater for certain justifiable instances where termination of a pregnancy should be permissible. On the basis of this recommendation, the Commission proceeded to identify the following grounds as justifying the termination of pregnancy:

  • where the continued pregnancy will endanger the life of a pregnant woman;
  • where the termination is necessary to prevent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman;
  • where there is a severe malformation of the foetus which will affect its viability or compatibility with life; and
  • where the pregnancy is as a result of rape, incest or defilement.

The truth is that under the proposed law, inducement of abortion in Malawi will remain restricted but has given additional conditions aimed at saving lives of women, girls and minors whose lives are at risk because of pregnancy-related causes.

Making a presentation before journalists in Mangochi, a Presbyterian Church Minister Rev. Cliff Nyekanyeka summed his observation very well: “The fact that a Catholic priest representing the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, a pastor representing Malawi Council of Churches and a Sheikh representing Muslim Association of Malawi were commissioners that drafted the Termination of Pregnancy Bill reflects the stand of the religious community. Individual pastors expressing reservations are only stating their personal opinions and not the stand of the mother bodies of the religious community.”

He concluded: “As a reverend, I do not think there is any religious leader out there who will be celebrating just because a church member has died from unsafe abortion. I fully support the enactment of Termination of Pregnancy Bill because it is my wish that no woman or girl should die from unsafe abortion or any pregnant-related causes.”