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Debate on legalising abortion stokes passions

Readers Lounge By The Standard
Stigmatisation of girls and single women who get pregnant is high (Photo: Shutterstock)

Pro-choice advocates want abortion legalised to reduce maternal mortality.

Several advocacy groups, among them International Campaign for Women Rights to Safe Abortion, argued that religious and cultural norms should not be a hindrance for countries to enact laws on safe abortion.

“If people want to be bound by religious norms it is okay. If you have a law on safe abortion, it does not mean every woman will be forced to do it,” said Dr Shilpa Shroff, the director of International Campaign for Women Rights to Safe Abortion.

Combating stigma

Dr Ernest Nyamato of IPAS, an organisation that provides safe abortion services, said that these religious and cultural norms are the ones increasing stigma on abortion issues. Dr Nyamato noted that stigmatisation of girls and single women who get pregnant is high.

“Imagine a teenage girl who goes to hospital and is found pregnant; the first question she is asked is: ‘Where is your mother? What kind of parents do you have?’” he said.

Nyamato said with the recent gag rule imposed by US President Donald Trump’s administration, which limits organisations on providing abortion related services, Kenya is at risk of more cases of unsafe abortion.

“We are actually going to see increased cases even in places where we had low numbers due to the stigmatisation,” said Nyamato.

But even with the gag rule, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), arguably the largest non-profit organisation on sexual reproductive health matters, made a commitment to ensure increased services to safe abortion and awareness of sexual rights, especially in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America.

“Accelerate universal access to safe abortion by expanding the provision of quality and women-centered comprehensive abortion care, with a focus on implementing innovative strategies to reach underserved populations; providing support to women to self-manage medical abortion and improving access to and availability of medical abortion commodities,” reads the organisation’s commitment and presented by Director General Dr Alvaro Bermejo.

Bermejo said they seek to champion for reproductive freedom and the organisation will stand firm against coercion by advocating for safe and legal abortion.

Determine legality

Dr Anna Gonzalez, an activist from Columbia, said conflicting laws in countries on abortion make it difficult to determine the legality of abortion.

“In Columbia, abortion is a fundamental human right, but it is still criminal in the Penal Code, so this is very confusing,” said Dr Gonzalez.

It is only recently that a court in Kenya ruled that a woman can abort in cases where her mental health is deemed unfit to carry a pregnancy. The case was based on a 14-year-old girl who died after procuring an unsafe abortion following a rape incident.

The debate on abortion proved quite hot during one of the sessions at the population conference, which ends today. Several advocacy groups insisted abortion should be legalised as one of the ways of reducing maternal mortality.

Reduction of maternal mortality is one of the commitments made by countries attending the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

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