Pro-Life Africans Fight Back Against Drive to Legalize Abortion

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Pro-life activists in Africa are stepping up efforts against moves to legalize abortion, while campaigning for medical practitioners in those countries where abortion is legal to have the right to refuse to perform them.

In Kenya, the Catholic Pro-life Movement is organizing nationwide demonstrations, starting this Saturday, to promote public awareness of the sanctity of human life.

"Through these marches, we shall be making a united statement against abortion, not only to Kenyans, but also to the world as a whole," the movement's director, Maximillia Muninzwa, said here.

Abortion is illegal in Kenya, but government statistics show that at least 700 abortions are carried out daily. One-third of maternal deaths and one-half of maternity hospital admissions are abortion-related.

The issue was thrust into the spotlight last May with the discovery of 15 apparently aborted babies dumped on a highway bridge in Nairobi.

Abortion is also illegal in Uganda, where a recent study by the Church of Uganda found a steady rise in the number of abortions and in the number of young girls dying from complications arising from abortions.

Supported by international non-governmental organizations, the Family Planning Association of Uganda and other groups have urged the government to legalize abortion, arguing that this would reduce the high mortality rate, currently 1,200 deaths per 100,000 mothers.

While abortions are frowned upon in African tradition, the stigma associated with having a child outside of marriage in a conservative society prompts many unmarried mothers to seek illegal abortions.

Some groups have called on African governments to allow "safer abortions" on the grounds that the cost of raising children -- especially for single mothers -- has become prohibitive.

Religious leaders have condemned the notion that an unborn baby should die simply because the mother decides she is unable to raise the child.

Unusual for Africa, abortion is legal in post-apartheid South Africa. A new legislative push there seeks to make access to abortions even more readily available.

The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill, now under consideration, aims to allow trained nurses to perform abortions. It also gives any health-care facility that provides 24-hour maternal health-care services automatic authority to perform abortion up to 12 weeks.

Currently, only doctors and midwives may carry out abortions.

South African pro-lifers are urging lawmakers to amend the legislation to allow doctors and nurses who object on moral and religious grounds to refuse to perform or assist an abortion.

Catholic Archbishop of Pretoria George Francis Daniel said in a statement that the proposed legislation would endanger and affect the physical and mental well-being of more babies and their mothers.

"More babies will be killed, more mothers will suffer injury to their physical and mental health, and the right of health-care workers to conscientiously object to perform or be involved in performing abortions will be further weakened," he said.

South Africa started allowing abortions for special circumstances in 1975, but since 1996, it has been available on demand.

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