Monday, 12 December 2011 10:36

Patricia Nkhoma
Experts have called for the review of Malawi’s abortion laws, saying current laws are contributing towards high unsafe abortion rates and preventable deaths among resource- poor women.

This was disclosed last Wednesday at a two-day sexual reproductive health meeting held in Zomba.

Malawi Human Rights Commission Executive Secretary, Grace Malera, who is also a member of the Coalition for Prevention of Unsafe Abortions (COPUA), observed that Malawi’s abortion laws were contradictory in that they only offer women whose lives are in danger the right to safe abortion while denying the rest similar opportunities.

“Safe abortion is supposed to be a Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) right for women, but what is happening in Malawi, in terms of women’s access to safe abortion services, contradicts this. In fact, our women are being denied their SRH rights,” Malera said.

She further said forcing women to carry pregnancy to term when their mental and social status did not permit it contradicts World Health Organisation’s guidelines as well as international protocols on women’s SRH rights as it infringed on their right to dignity.

Concurring with Malera, Ipas Policy Associate Godfrey Kangaude said current abortion laws have failed women, imploring government to review the current law and harmonise it with that trends in other countries.

He cited the case of Zambia, saying liberalisation of abortion laws in Zambia has drastically reduced cases of deaths arising from unsafe abortions.

“This is why we are calling for the review of sections 149, 150 and 151 of the Penal Code; these sections only provide for safe abortion when the woman’s life is in danger. We want them reviewed so that the circumstances under which abortion is permitted are broadened,” Kangaude said.

Kangaude added that the current environment has created fertile ground for the abuse of women’s SRH rights.

He said women are stigmatised in both the health system and their own communities, thereby giving room to untrained personnel to carry out clandestine abortions.

“This is leading to increased numbers of women dying from abortion complications,” Kangaude said.

COPUA is a coalition of medical practitioners, lawyers and media practitioners, and aims at reducing deaths arising from unsafe abortions.