BLANTYRE, Malawi – Centre for Solutions Journalism (CSJ)- Malawi has commended the Malawi government for taking a bold step in formulating a new law that offers and guarantees women’s right to access safe and legal termination of unwanted pregnancies.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the media NGO praised the government for drafting a modern and progressive bill on termination of pregnancy through a process which even generated input from religious leaders.
“Saving women’s lives is very important and it is important for the government and all the stakeholders to ensure that no woman dies from unsafe abortion,” said CSJ executive director Brian Ligomeka.
He explained that it was encouraging that the government of Malawi is following the lead of more than 35 countries worldwide that have expanded access to safe and legal abortion.
Ligomeka told CSJnews.org that he expected many religious leaders to emulate some members of the Malawi Council of Churches who have openly supported the bill.
“The government needs to be praised for including representatives from the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Association, the Muslim Association and the Malawi Council of Churches.
“The inclusion of these men and women of God in the Special Law Commission which drafted the Termination of Pregnancy Bill was the right approach in law reform,” Ligomeka said.
The Special Law Commission that drafted Malawi’s Termination of Pregnancy Bill had four commissioners from the religious community.
Besides the religious leaders’ representatives, other commissioners were from the Ministry of Health, the Judiciary, the Law Society, the Ministry of Justice and the Malawi College of Medicine.
According to a Ministry of Health data, up to 70,000 women and girls seek an abortion every year, and of these, 31,000 develop serious complications including loss of uterus, permanent disability, and death.
While the current law in Malawi only legalizes provision of abortion services when the pregnancy puts the life of the pregnant woman in danger, the new draft law recommends new grounds including in cases of risks to physical or mental health, rape, incest and fetal abnormalities.
Concerned with the high incidence of maternal mortality in Malawi due to unsafe abortion, the government embarked on a process of liberalizing its restrictive abortion law.
Malawi has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with about 20 percent of maternal deaths being attributable to unsafe abortion.
The commendation comes as Malawi government has over the past few months been enacting laws and policies to address a range of human rights issues including child marriage, gender inequality and human trafficking.
Despite the religious community having representatives in the commission that drafted the bill on termination of pregnancy, some clerics have started expressing reservations.
On Tuesday this week some clerics took to the street to protest against the draft Termination of Pregnancy Bill.
“We….reaffirm that human life begins at conception…and that the right to life of the unborn child takes precedence over the right of a woman to control her body and as a result to procure an abortion,” the clerics said in a petition presented to Parliament.
It added: “That all direct abortions, deliberate killing of an innocent human being are gravely evil and immoral.”
The petition signed by Episcopal Conference of Malawi secretary general Father Henry Saindi and Evangelical Association of Malawi secretary Rev. Francis Mkandawire says human life is under direct attack.
“We note with great concern that human life is under direct attack by ‘the agents of the culture of death, pushing for the liberalization of abortion in Malawi. The proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill is not only against our culture, beliefs and laws but it is also a threat to human life,” reads the petition in part.
FACTS ABOUT ABORTION
- According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), unsafe abortion remains one of the leading causes of maternal mortality, accounting for 47,000 of the 358,000 annual pregnancy-related deaths worldwide. Thus, globally, 13% of all pregnancy related deaths are due to unsafe abortions.
- Africa is particularly affected by unsafe abortion: 6.2 million unsafe abortions occur in Africa each year, and about 5.5 million of these occur in sub-Saharan countries.
- Unsafe abortions in Africa cause nearly 36,000 preventable deaths – more than half of all deaths globally from unsafe abortion.
- Abortion in Malawi is restricted to circumstances where the pregnancy puts the life of the pregnant woman in danger.
- The restrictions do not reduce the incidence of abortion as more than 70,000 women in Malawi have abortions every year, or, 24 abortions for every 1000 women aged 15-44. This is according to Malawi Ministry of Health data.
- Approximately 31,000 Malawian women are treated for complications of unsafe abortion annually in Malawi and approximately 20% of maternal deaths in Malawi are attributable to unsafe abortion, making it one of the primary causes of maternal mortality.
- Malawi’s restrictive abortion law contributes to preventable maternal deaths and life-long complications and disabilities
- The current criminalization of abortion leads to a situation whereby women and girls with unwanted pregnancies turn to unsafe means of terminating their pregnancies and are exposed to life-threatening risks.
Methods used for unsafe abortion women in Malawi
- Ingesting dangerous substances or overdosing on medication
- Use of detergents and herbs acquired from a herbalist
- Use of cassava sticks knitting needles and wires
- Deliberate bodily injury e.g. falling down
The costs of abortion
- The cost of basic post-abortion care is estimated to be US $45 per case.
- Public health facilities in Malawi that provide post abortion care spend approximately US $1.06 million annually to treat women with complications of unsafe abortion.
- If safe abortion services were made available to women, approximately US $435,000 could become available in public health care facilities each year to divert to other health care needs.
- Families also pay the cost of unsafe abortion when a woman dies.
- Churches should promote abstinence and faithfulness to reduce incidents of unwanted pregnancies
- Health facilities should increase provision of contraceptives
- Health facilities should increase access to post-abortion care for those injured during unsafe abortions.
- Government should enact the new Termination of Pregnancy Bill so that women and girls who seek to terminate unwanted pregnancies can access services in the hospitals.