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Abortion and the Constitution: Are we really listening to the women?

March 31, 2010 4 comments

Having been closely and keenly following the process of making and reviewing a new constitution for Kenya, I cannot help but wonder if we are giving an ear to the women in the country. Women in Kenya make up 52 percent of the population, and play a major role in our nation building.

The committee of experts (C.O.E) as an organ of review has done a great job of making a widely accepted proposed constitution. Kudos to the experts! Having noted that, I am left to focus and shed more light on the issue of abortion a discussed in section 26 of the proposed constitution.

The religious leaders insist that life is sacred, and that they will not support any law that allows ‘people’ to walk into hospitals and procure abortion. While they agree and acknowledge issues of sickness, they are willing to ‘leave it to hospitals and medics to give direction’. The Catholic Church has however declared that it has not and will not change its stand regarding the right to life, which is God given.

The politicians have had their cake, and in my opinion, decided to keep it. Now, they insist that the church’s stand on abortion is rigid and realistic. We all know that the church leaders have opposed the section that allows mothers to abort if their health is in danger, saying abortion should be outlawed. One minister, female to be precise, said that the church has not offered solutions to the abortion issue, but instead took a negative stand, thereby increasing divisions. She reminds the clergy that while women make up 52% of the population in Kenya, they also make up to 50 percent of the congregation in churches.

‘Remove the clause on abortion’, our medics urge, breaking ranks with both the members of parliament and the men of cloth. Their reason why the clause should e expunged from the proposed constitution? Citing gains made in the fifth Millennium Development Goal that seeks to eliminate unsafe abortion by 2015, they argue that if the current draft is passed unammended, it would jeopardize maternal health and recede on these gains.

The doctors thus want clauses 4 and 6 of Section 26 of the Bill Of Rights deleted and confined to a parliamentary Act, owing to divergent views and likelihood of not reaching a consensus. They argue that if put in the constitution the said clauses will not protect women from victimization for having some diseases. Doctors say that the clause on abortion has far reaching negative impact on maternal health and would mean health professionals would not provide family planning services, especially emergency contraceptives and the coil. This would also mean women would register all conception, which is clearly impractical and demeaning.

The doctors are basically warning stakeholders to avoid the temptations to legalize or illegalize abortion through the constitution. They argue that abortion cannot be given a blanket ban, hence a need to define this clause lest every woman with miscarriages be denied care. The question they ask is, ‘is abortion same as termination of life?’

Now why don’t we let women resolve the abortion saga? When a daughter of a senior clergy-man or government minister becomes pregnant, the wife is likely to send her secretly to a foreign country to secure a safe abortion, even without informing the husband. This reaction makes us realize that the abortion debate is about women, and that their opinion will win the day. Men should thus stop yapping about what happens with women’s bodies, and the morals surrounding the responses they take to challenges involved.

A lot remains unsaid in the declaration in Section 26 of the draft constitution that life begins at conception. The purpose of the declaration is to justify the subsequent provision that seeks to illegalize abortion in order to protect the foetus.  It’s thus logical to extend this protection to include, any expectant mother found engaging in substance abuse known to harm the foetus! This could be very impractical.

Legalizing abortion without finding out what actually drives women to seek it is also no solution at all. Thus there is need to empower women, sufficiently so that they are able to avoid solving their gender problems through desperate means. Conversely, the effect of illegalizing abortion is denying women from poor backgrounds access to safe abortion, thus unnecessary deaths and infections.

My Earworm-Strength of a woman, By Shaggy

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