Pro-lifers Oppose New Push to Legalize Abortion in Kenya

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

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Pro-life activists in Kenya have rejected suggestions that Kenya should legalize abortion, following the release of new figures on the number of women who die as a result of "unsafe" abortions.

International Projects Assistance Services (IPAS), an organization working to promote "sexual and reproductive rights" around the world, has released a new report saying that 300,000 abortions are performed every year in Kenya, resulting in the deaths of about 2,600 women.

"Legal reforms on abortion are important to help save lives," said IPAS representative Enice Amissah, adding that her organization would urge the government to change the law to "save thousands of young lives being wasted every year."

The report, released jointly by IPAS and Kenyan medical and legal groups, said half of the abortions in Kenya are performed on women under 24, and in some cases as young as 10.

But Esther Chege of a group called Family Life Promotions said that based on its experience, abortion in Kenya -- particularly in the case of young unmarried women -- was a socioeconomic matter. The solution to curbing the number of deaths was to enable the young women to care for their babies.

"Young, single mothers and even married women who come to us seeking abortion services usually cite the burden of bringing up the newborn as their main reason for doing it," said Chege.

Since abortion was banned and would remain so, she said, the only option for the government and Kenyan society was to find ways to "economically empower" women.

Kenyan law bans abortion except in cases where a doctor confirms that the life of the mother is in jeopardy.

The law is based on the Offences Against the Person Act, passed back in 1861 when Kenya was a British colony.

According to IPAS, women die as a result of illegal abortions because most are performed in unhygienic places by untrained people using crude implements.

Kenya is in the process of drawing up a new constitution. Last year, pro-lifers objected to an attempt to include the words "reproductive health care" in the draft constitution.

The Christian Medical Fellowship of Kenya lobbied successfully for the phrase to be removed, arguing in that the words "partly stood for access to abortion services."

Armed with the new report, however, Monica Wambui of the Reproductive Health Rights group believes that those who oppose abortion may be swayed, especially as the report outlines the amount of money Kenya spends each year treat abortion-related complications.

Wambui called the report a "crucial" part of the campaign to persuade the administration to legalize abortion, and noted that two senior health ministry officials had recently called for its legalization.

The drive to allow abortion emerges in Kenya every now and then, and each time it does it runs into stiff resistance from Christian and Muslim leaders in a country where a majority identifies itself as religious.

In African tradition, abortion is seen as taboo and in more conservative communities a woman who has had an abortion is regarded as an outcast.

Trying to legalize abortion in a predominantly African and religious society like Kenya's "a task close to impossible," said Duncan Mwangi, a sociology teacher in Nairobi.

The Catholic Church in Kenya maintains that the whole concept of a "safe abortion" is misconceived.

Like the mother, "the baby in her womb has human rights too," according to the church's teaching.

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