Written by MARTIN DINGAKE
Wednesday, 02 May 2012 09:42
The campaign for the legalisation of abortion in Botswana has taken unprecedented levels in the recent past. The Assistant Minister of Local Government Ms. Tshireletso has called on government to consider legalising abortion. There is another dimension to this issue. It relates to reproductive rights of women and their right to determine when to bear children. Liberty relates to the right to do what is permitted by law.
The Penal Code (Amendment) 1998 proscribes the process of terminating a pregnancy. The law has made it highly difficult for women to terminate pregnancy. This has meant that women have to resort to street abortion to assert their reproductive rights and make a deliberate decision whether or not to keep the pregnancy. Abortion is illegal in Botswana and there is a need to demand law reforms to “allow access to safe abortive measures” and this regard, the call by the Minister should be applauded. The restrictive criteria for legal abortions and the continued criminalisation of abortion pushes women into unsafe abortions and early deaths. It is given that many women are dying out there from complications arising following backyard abortions. Rape victims end up giving birth to unwanted babies because of the cumbersome process to have the abortion sanctioned. Many women who are rape victims and who for one reason or another are unable to report rape case are left to deal with the trauma of rape and live to see the products of rape grow in their wombs.
Statistics from Zimbabwe for example are worrying. According to the 2007 Zimbabwe Maternal And Perinatal Mortality Survey, 26,000 to 84,000 women suffer from disabilities caused by complications during pregnancy and child-birth each year.
The fact that abortion is illegal means it is not a right for women to abort. According the Penal Code (Amendment) of 1998 provides that abortion is legal only when the life of the mother and her physical health is endangered by the continuation of the pregnancy; where there is serious risk that the child to be born will suffer from physical or mental defects of such a nature that it will be permanently or seriously be handicapped and where there is reasonable possibility that the foetus conceived is as a result of unlawful intercourse. But, even in such circumstances where the law provides for legal abortion, the process and legal procedures are lengthy, and often results in traumatic experiences for women. There are instances where women are forced to give birth because of delays in procuring a legal abortion. By the time they receive authorisation, it is medically dangerous to terminate the pregnancy.
Due to the restrictive nature of abortion laws, there is a high prevalence of illegal abortions taking place in the country. There is need to decriminalise abortion to allow access to safe abortive measures thus reducing the number of women conducting illegal abortions. Women empowerment also means giving them the right to choose with respect to their body when to conceive and when conceived, whether or not to keep the pregnancy.