MPs pledge to table Termination of Pregnancy Bill

Parliamentary Health Committee Chair Dr Matthews Ngwale and Gender Activist Emma Kaliya during the interface meeting with some MPs

LILONGWE, Malawi -Members of Parliament of the Health Committee have pledged to ensure the tabling of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill in the current sitting of the National Assembly.

The MPs made the pledge at a dinner organized by SRHR organisations in Lilongwe recently.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Health Dr Matthews Ngwale said it was high time the bill was presented in the August house. 

He said a lot of Members of Parliament were willing to support the bill after noting the high number of women and girls who are dying due to unsafe abortion.

Ngwale said while countries like Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa have drastically reduced maternal deaths through the enactment of progressive abortion laws, Malawi continues to put lives of women and girls at risk with its almost 100-year old colonial law.

The law restricts the scope within which women and girls can seek abortions, leading them to procure unsafe abortions.

Today, 439 out of every 100,000 women die due to pregnancy-related factors in Malawi.
Ngwale said while other maternal death causes such as infections and excessive bleeding were being addressed through various interventions, there was slow progress to complement those efforts with safe abortions.

He said Malawi cannot continue to sit back and watch women die from unsafe abortion simply because MPs did not do their job of passing a law that would have protected the people they represent. 

“We need to rise and say in future that ‘I was one of those who stood up and prevented the deaths of girls and women in the country from unsafe abortion’,” Ngwale said.

He, however, clarified that what is being brought to the National Assembly is not a new law but one that just expands the grounds of allowing a woman to seek an abortion. 

He also dismissed the perception that the new law is legalizing abortion.
“Abortion shall remain illegal in the country but what is being done is only to expand the factors upon which safe abortion can be performed. The current law is pushing women into seeking an unsafe abortion,” he said.

The current law permits abortion only if medical doctors determine that the life of a woman carrying the pregnancy is at risk. 

It does not consider factors such as incest, defilement and rape through which many women in Malawi have fallen into an unwanted pregnancy. The new law addresses this deficit.

The proposed law also adds that termination of pregnancy may be performed to prevent injury to the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman and in cases of severe foetal malformation.

Ngwale added that unsafe abortion is a burden to society even though it happens in secret.

“These things happen away from our sight. But they come back into our society, into our homes, into our hospitals and into our lives in one way or another. We need to do something about it,” he said.

On her part, Senior Chief Kayembe of Dowa pleaded with Parliamentarians to consider thousands of women and girls in the country who die every year because of unsafe abortion.

She said if the grounds of seeking abortion are expanded, it will make a difference in her village as well as Malawi as a whole.

“MPs have a duty to prevent further deaths by passing laws and putting in policies that can solve the problem of deaths resulting from unsafe abortions,” she said.

Malawi has been sitting on the proposed law since 2016 when the Malawi Law Commission released its report in which it recommended the enactment of a new Termination of Pregnancy law.

Obstetrics and Gynaecology Specialist Dr Grace Chiudzu said the burden of unsafe abortion was huge in Malawi.

She said, for instance at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital alone, 68 percent of maternal complications were due to unsafe abortion. 
She said the problem also costs the taxpayer as much as K300 million which the government spends every year on post-abortion care.

Over 141,000 women induce abortion every year, according to research conducted by the College of Medicine. These include women who are in marriages.