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It's time for Kenya to legalize safe abortion

By okun oliech | September 1st 2016

Young girls and women between the age of 15 -24 years from all parts of this country are having abortions and are having it for the same reasons. Some of the reasons include: need to continue with their education, being unable to raise the child, need to care for existing children, not in stable relationships and pregnancy being too close to previous birth.

Abortion is not permitted in Kenya unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.

Despite this strict law against abortion, women are still having abortions in the country. According to the world health organization, some of the highest rates of abortions are in Africa where we have many women with unintended pregnancies and abortion is usually restricted in almost all countries Kenya being included.

The best way to reduce abortions in this country is not by outlawing it but by helping women avoid unintended pregnancies in the first place through investing more in contraception. In Kenya, 70% of all the pregnancies are among women below the age of 24 years. 44% of adolescent age 15- 19 years have never heard of family planning. Moreover, 30% of married women aged 15- 19 years and 30% of those aged 20- 24 years have unmet needs for family planning.

If these women’s family planning needs were met, the results would be dramatic. If unintended pregnancies would decline, we will have fewer abortions and most importantly thousands of women lives will be saved.

People have to understand that making abortion illegal does not stop it from occurring but instead it drives it underground. Women are then forced to seek unsafe and risky abortion procedures which are often performed by untrained providers and many even try to perform abortions on themselves. The consequences can be horrific. Unsafe abortion is the leading cause of maternal death in the world. Every year 47,000 women die from complications of unsafe abortion. All of these deaths occur in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws Kenya included. Unsafe abortions have also lead to millions of women injured seriously and permanently.  Ensuring that women have access to medical treatment after unsafe abortion if needed is essential to reducing maternal deaths and injuries.

It is estimated that even where there is high contraceptive use, there will always be a need for abortion. It’s a basic right for each and every woman to make her own decision about whether and when to have a child without putting her health or life at risk. It’s time for Kenya to make that right a reality by investing in contraception and legalizing safe abortion.

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