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Civil society groups push for re-introduction of guidelines for safe abortions

By Paul Ogemba | Published Thu, December 6th 2018 at 00:00, Updated December 6th 2018 at 09:26 GMT +3

Lobby groups have made a final pitch in court in their fight to have the Government re-introduce safe abortion guidelines.

Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida), Centre for Reproductive Rights, Women Link Worldwide and Article 19 accused the Government of ignoring the plight of thousands of women and girls who either died or suffered permanent damage due to unsafe abortions.

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Through lawyer Martin Onyango, Fida cited the case of a 14-year-old girl who died in June at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) as a result of post-abortion complications, to convince justices Aggrey Muchelule, George Odunga, Mumbi Ngugi, Lydiah Achode and John Mativo to allow their prayers.

The teenager, identified in court papers as JMM, was allegedly raped and impregnated by a man who waylaid her. When she missed two menstrual cycles she informed a friend who took her to a backstreet clinic to terminate the pregnancy. During the procedure, she started bleeding and became unconscious.

She was taken to a hospital in Kisii, where doctors discovered that her internal organs had been badly damaged and that she would require special treatment and surgery at KNH to save her life. She died before she could be helped.

“Unsafe abortions remain a major cause of maternal morbidity and mortality in the country. Had the policies and guidelines on safe abortions been in place, the little girl’s life would have been saved,” said Mr Onyango.

Fida said its petition was not to seek to legalise abortion but to compel the Government to formulate policies and guidelines to implement Article 26 of the Constitution, which allows termination of a pregnancy on account of a doctor’s advice.

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He  said with the guidelines in place, health workers could be trained on safe abortions so they could easily know when to recommend the procedure.

Lawyer Demas Kiprono, for Article 19, said withdrawal of the guidelines was a violation of the right to information and health, considering women seeking reproductive health services could not get the right information to address their conditions.

“The Director of Medical Services acted in excess of his powers by unilaterally withdrawing the guidelines on safe abortions. We do not understand why he stopped training of health workers on safe abortions without giving reasons,” said Mr Kiprono.

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He said the Health ministry had failed to show how harmful medical procedures used to help women with pregnancies were.

Withdrawal of the standards and guidelines was a clear instance of the State withholding health-related information from health professionals and the public, Kiprono said.

The lobby groups are seeking a declaration that Government’s failure to provide guidelines for safe abortions had violated the rights of women and want to stop the Health ministry from interfering with any professional health worker who goes for training on safe abortions. They also want the court to order the ministry to reintroduce standards and guidelines that will clarify when legal abortion can be provided.

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