Authorities in Malawi have expressed optimism that a new Termination of Pregnancy law will be enacted once Cabinet ministers complete reviewing recommendations which the Law Commission submitted.
Speaking during a media workshop on abortion law reform, Ministry of Health Spokesperson Joshua Malango said the sequence was that after the Cabinet scrutinises the recommendations, the bill would be tabled in Parliament.
“The due process of scrunitising the bill is underway. The Law Commission submitted its recommendations which included a proposed bill to relevant ministries [of Health and Justice], which forwarded it to cabinet through responsible ministers,” said Malango.
He disclosed this on Saturday during a capacity building workshop on coverage of abortion issues organized by Centre for Solutions Journalism, with support from IPAS Malawi.
Echoing similar sentiments was Presidential Advisor on Civil Society Organisations Mavuto Bamusi who said Malawi government is committed to ensure that women enjoys all human rights including access to sexual and reproductive health services.
“Government recognizes that access to sexual and reproductive health services is a fundamental human right. Government is striving to expand and provide voluntary, high quality, affordable, accessible and acceptable information and services to all women, men and young people who need them,” he said.
According to Bamusi, the aspiration of the current administration is to ensure that no single woman should suffer or die from complications of pregnancy-related challenges including abortion in Malawi.
He added: “The government is committed to ending maternal deaths in Malawi. There are various interventions the government is doing that. One of the ways is to address the problem of unsafe abortions through law reform.”
However, Bamusi challenged participants at the workshop to follow a holistic approach in addressing maternal health issues as there are inter-linked challenges.
“Besides the current issue of abortion law reform under discussion, we should not pay a blind eye to other issues such as cervical cancer, teen marriages and even gender-based violence.”
He said: “Our State President, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, as a champion for He for She Campaign is leading the way. Our First Lady Madam Gertrude Mutharika is also championing the fight against cervical cancer and early marriages. All these efforts are linked to reduction of maternal health in the country.”
Popularise the proposed bill
While the Cabinet is working on the recommendations to adopt them as a government bill for presentation in Parliament, Bamusi advised reproductive health organisations and the media to intensify civic education on the proposed bill.
“Our laws and even proposed laws are enacted to benefit the people. There is need for the people including those living in rural areas should know what is in the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill. The media has, therefore, the important task of taking the bill to the grass-root communities,” he said.
Bamusi praised Centre for Solutions Journalism for its commitment in advocating for abortion law reform.
Respect women’s choices
Speaking earlier, CSJNEWS Board Chairperson Rev. Fr. Martin Kalimbe said it was important to bear in mind that the Malawi Constitution offers citizens freedom of choice and freedom of decision making.
“We all make decisions. Some decisions we make are easy and others are difficult. Some decisions we make are political in nature while others are personal. We also make medical, religious and even financial decisions in our lives.
“Some of the decisions we make affect our bodies. When we decide to go for medical circumcision, that’s the decision, we, men, make freely about our bodies. Likewise, when women decide to terminate unwanted pregnancies, that is the decision they make. It is important to respect decision women make about their bodies instead of being judgemental about such decisions,” Kalimbe explained.
Speaking at the training workshop, Senior Chief [Inkosi] Mabulabo Jere of Mzimba discussed how abortion has existed since time immemorial.
“In most cultures, abortions are simply women’s health issues. Unfortunately, colonial laws are the ones which are fueling unsafe abortions in our areas,” he said.
The traditional leader quizzed: “Isn’t it ironic that over 141,000 abortions are taking place annually in this country yet no single woman is serving jail for inducing abortion. What does that say about the outdated colonial laws?”
Inkosi Mabulabo said many traditional leaders in Malawi are in full support of abortion law reform.
The key trainer at the workshop included Dr Chisale Mhango – a renowned Malawian gynaecologist and a university lecturer, Mike Chinoko – a legal expert from Malawi Law Commission, Emma Kaliya – a gallant women rights activist from Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre, Dr Owen Chikhwaza who is the Deputy Director of Reproductive Health Services in Ministry of Health and Brian Ligomeka, an activist and communications expert who is executive director of CSJNEWS.