Malawi: Civil society organisations ask government to pass new abortion law

Veteran human rights activist Emma Kaliya was among the leaders of 45 CSOs that convened at Mponela in Dowa

We, the forty Five Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) having met on 27th and 28th September 2017 and deliberated on Research Studies on Termination of Pregnancy in Malawi, Current Hospital Management of Termination of Pregnancy Cases, Current Legal and Policy Framework on Abortion in Malawi, Proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill from Law Commission and Human Rights Framework on Women Health Rights in Malawi

Bearing in mind that 28th September every year is International Safe Abortion Day

Recalling that Malawi Government through the Malawi Law Commission empanelled a Special Law Commission on Review of Abortion in 2013 with the mandate of Reviewing All Laws on Termination of Pregnancy in Malawi and the said commission finished its work in July, 2015

Noting that the Special Law Commission on Review of Termination of Pregnancy Laws consisted of representatives from Government, Civil Society Organisations, Chiefs, Episcopal Conference of Malawi, all other churches under Malawi Council Churches and Muslim Association of Malawi and that together they proposed a bill on Termination of Pregnancy

Recognising that Malawi Government through Ministry of Health carried out various research studies on Magnitude and Incidences of Unsafe Abortion, Strategic Assessment on Unsafe Abortion and Cost Study on providing post abortion care

Knowing that as per 2015 Research Study by College of Medicine in Malawi, 53% of all pregnancies in Malawi are unintended, 141,000 abortions occur every year, 30-40% of admissions in gynaecological wards in our hospitals is due to abortion related cases  and 18% of maternal mortality is due to unsafe abortion

Appreciating that World Health Organisation (WHO) has already provided guidance on how to address issues of unsafe abortion in countries like Malawi

Recognising that use of contraceptives is generally low with limited choices and it is recommended by World Health Organisation that every comprehensive family planning program in the world has to include provision of safe abortion services

Understanding that Malawi has already signed and ratified various international human rights instruments on women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health rights including Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), African Protocol on Women’s Rights and Maputo Plan of Action, Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Health, SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and that Malawi also passed the Gender Equality Act (2013) in line with these instruments

Considering that under Section 19(1)(e) of the Gender Equality of Act of the Laws, every person has a right to adequate to sexual and reproductive health which includes the right to choose the number of children and when to bear those children and under Section 19(2) of the same Gender Equality Act every person has a right to choose whether or not to have a child

Realising that under the Constitution of Malawi and the legal framework in Malawi guided by the courts, Malawi is bound to follow the General Comments and Guidelines from United Nations and African Union Human Rights institutions and many international bodies have recommended the need to change and reform for the better Termination of Pregnancy Laws

Acknowledging the initiative taken by the Ministry of Health through the Special Law Commission on the review of the Abortion Laws in Malawi

Hereby jointly issue this Press Statement to the People of Malawi in commemoration of World Safe Abortion today and we continue to call and reach out to Malawi Parliament to pass Termination of Pregnancy Bill which is a law drafted through consensus by all sectors in Malawi church and we continue to state as follows:

  1. We note with deep concern that unsafe abortion remains one of the top five causes of maternal mortality and morbidity in Malawi where the most affected are poor women and girls.
  2. We know that through experts from World Health Organisation, United Nations, African Union, Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, Midwives, Human Rights Experts that there is no any other way of addressing unsafe abortion apart from providing safe abortion services to women and girls who need the services.
  3. We call upon policy makers at all levels to take comprehensive steps to stop preventable complications and deaths of women and girls resulting from unsafe abortion.
  4. We note that under section 243 of the Penal Code abortion is legal in Malawi, but the law is very restrictive where it allows abortion only to save a woman’s life thereby maintaining the criminal provisions on abortion forcing women to procure unsafe means.
  5. We appreciate that there is no institution or group in Malawi who can stop women and girls from procuring abortion but women and girls can be offered choices to make decisions.
  6. We note that section 243 of the Penal Code is vague, unclear and unhelpful to women, health professionals, lawyers, counselling officers and advocates.
  7. We appreciate that over the years there has been a lot of scientific developments on provision of medical abortion and that abortion drugs are available in Malawi but being used without policy framework and regulations.
  8. We note that the current abortion related laws in Malawi are archaic and outdated and call for law reform and development of new and clear laws on abortion is meant to reflect and address the dire situation on the ground where women are dying as well as complying with international human rights norms.
  9. Malawi already has good laws on human rights and a shining example to the world when it comes to promotion and protection of human rights. The same should continue in promoting and protecting women’s rights by changing Termination of Pregnancy Laws.
  10. We recommend that under the guidance of World Health Organisation (WHO) comprehensive family planning program has to be supported by access to safe abortion backed by clear legal provisions
  11. We propose that Malawi should continue to emulate other AU member states such as Ethiopia, South Africa, Tunisia, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Ghana, Namibia and Zambia among others that have taken positive steps in developing laws that provide grounds for safe termination of pregnancy.

Therefore, urge and ask that:

  1. The next sitting of parliament should debate Malawi Law Commission Report on Review of Termination of Pregnancy Laws and appreciate why the laws were reformed. The report was finalized in 2015 and should not continue to gather dust.
  2. The next sitting of parliament must debate and pass the Termination of Pregnancy Bill as proposed by Malawi Law Commission because the law was drafted through a very vigorous consultant process. All stakeholders were consulted and all sectors were present in the Special Law Commission and all sectors agreed that this is the law Malawi should adopt.
  3. We repeat that there is no any other way of addressing deaths of women and girls due to unsafe abortions apart from having a good law on terminating of pregnancy.
  4. We commit ourselves to continue providing civic education to the people of Malawi on research studies on unsafe abortion, laws, human rights, women’s rights, gender and recommendations from World Health Organisation and other institutions on the need for access to safe legal abortion to prevent unnecessary deaths of women and girls

We, the undersigned, therefore, pledge to work with for the people of Malawi with the Government of Malawi in the ongoing law reform processes on abortion and provision of comprehensive abortion care services.

Signed on 28th September, 2017 at Mponela, Malawi

This is a press statement issued by 45 Civil Society Organisations in Malawi on Law Reform on Termination of Pregnancy on International Safe Abortion Day on September 28, 2017