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Illegal abortion: the vice that refuses to go away


Unsafe abortions remain rampant among adolescents and youth, especially in universities and other tertiary institutes. This echoes a 2011 report by the Kenya Human Rights Commission that disclosed that 16 per cent of women procuring abortions are aged below 20. This implies that young girls are more afraid of carrying pregnancies than contracting STIs and HIV/Aids.

Twenty six to 31 million legal and 10-20 million illegal abortions are conducted each year worldwide. Over 1.5 million illegal abortions are carried out in Africa annually with Kenya having approximately 460,000 abortions procured per year according to a 2016 survey.

These numbers are mostly attributed to lack of sexuality and abstinence education among adolescents and young adults, low access to contraceptives and any contraceptive choices; a situation which leads to many unplanned pregnancies that inadvertently lead to abortions.


Before Kenya’s current constitution was enacted Article 158 ‘Attempts to procure abortions’ stated: “Any person who with intent to procure miscarriage of a woman whether she is or not with child, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind or uses any other means is guilty of a felony and is liable to 14 years imprisonment.”

Article 159 applies similar punitive conditions to any woman with child and makes her liable to seven years imprisonment whilst anyone who unlawfully supplies drugs or any instruments to procure abortion is liable to three years imprisonment.


After the amendment of the Constitution, Article 26(4) now states that while abortion is primarily illegal, exceptions can be made under two circumstances only. This circumstances are if the health of the mother is at risk and when the health of the child is at risk. Austin Arnold Omondi, a lawyer opines: “Even though the Constitution does not allow abortion, it leaves a loophole that allows the opinion of a trained medical personnel as a justification. Now this poses a handicap because a trained medical personnel can be anyone. Anyone, including chemists and pharmacists, listed under the KMPDU can in essence authorise the process.”

Despite the fact that only 16 per cent of hospitals can perform the vaccum procedure which is the method preferred and recommended by the World a Health Organization, majority of young people opt for more dangerous ways to terminated their pregnancies like using cloth hangers or poisoning the pregnancy with drug overdoses.


“Foetuses are found everywhere in most campuses; including dustbins. Majority of these girls are unable or afraid of seeking safe abortion services prefer cheaper services from quack doctors. The results as you can expect often end up severe medical complications,” one female student from the University of Nairobi told this writer.

Dr Eric Amunga says that even though it is not easy to give a specific number of women who procure abortions, not all of them can be termed as criminal abortions. “There are two types of abortions, induced and spontaneous. Induced is what we call criminal, or clandestine abortion while spontaneous is the one recommended by a medical practitioner due to the health of the mother or child bring at risk.

Majority of young girls do not want to visit hospitals for the criminal abortion because they are well aware that it is against the law but in a month we receive about four cases of abortions perfomed by quack doctors that have gone wrong.

We get cases where one has a rapture rectum, or raptured uterus which causes over bleeding due to scepter failure. But one must also keep in mind the fact that abortion is expulsion of a product of conception within 28 weeks of gestation. Beyond 28 weeks it is termed as a premature delivery because the baby has life and can survive when put in an incubator.”

40 per cent of Kenyan births are unplanned. The figure however rises to 47 per cent among teenagers with 21,000 women being admitted per year due to abortion related complications from having unsafe abortions.

2,600 of them end up dying. Of the women admitted, 12 per cent are older than 34 years while 40 per cent are between 25 and 34 years old while 16 per cent are teenagers.


Around 85 per cent of teenage girls engaging in sex do no use any form of protection while 70 per cent of the same group reportedly engage in casual unprotected sex.

In a survey that was conducted in a number of Kenyan schools this past year, it was discovered that only a quarter female students knew that contraceptives are to be taken by women not men while an even lesser number knew to take pills everyday not just before sex. Other statistics indicate that among only 28 per cent of women who are aged between 20-24 years old are using contraceptives.

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