Anti-Abortion Laws a Silent War Waged Against African Women

Friday, July 23 2010

Conference Calls for  Liberalization of Laws

Calls for abortion laws across Africa to be revised have dominated the first days of a meeting in Ethiopia  the Regional Consultation on Unsafe Abortion in Africa.

This four-day conference, organized by Ipas and the Guttmacher Institute was attended by more than 140 researchers, key government officials, and health practitioners from 16 African countries. Discussions are focusing on research into termination of pregnancy, and how the findings of inquiries can influence policy.

Abortion is prohibited in most African countries, except in cases where the mothers life is in danger, something that may have to be confirmed by more than one doctor. The result is that many women have to resort to seeking unsafe abortions.

According to the World Health Organization, 4.2 million unsafe abortions occur in Africa every year, resulting in about 30,000 deaths.

"There is a silent war waged against women, mostly in the developing world, and their right to reproductive health, especially to safe abortion. This war is fuelled byarchaic abortion laws," said Eunice Brookman-Amissah, Ipas vice-president for Africa. "We need to ask ourselves whether we will allow oldlaws to kill women. If we have a law that kills people, we need to review it."

By contrast, South Africa, who in 1997 became one of the few African states to have legalised abortion on request, has drastically reduced the number of deaths related to termination of pregnancy.

"The number of women dying from abortion has plummeted. Initially, before the new law was established, there were 425 deaths arising from abortion every year. Now the number is less than 20," said Roland Edgar Mhlanga, head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

Efforts to relax laws on abortion were also made recently in Ethiopia, where unsafe abortion is the second-largest cause of death among women admitted to hospitals, according to Health Minster, Tedros Adhanom.
However, it was noted that changes to abortion laws did not in themselves put a stop to unsafe abortions.

"Having the laws is one thing, and having the laws work for everyone is another thing. Laws must also be in place to ensure that these services are available for the poorest of the poor," said Mhlanga.

The importance of providing women with contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies was also highlighted.

According to Adhanom, the low level of contraceptive usage in Ethiopia (just 14 per cent of married women used this family planning method in 2005) had shown the need for more community health workers to provide information about contraceptives, and distribute them.

30,000 of these workers are required; to date, government has managed to train 9,000 workers, who have visited a third of the countrys 15,000 villages.

Neighbouring Kenya is also faced with the need for more personnel to provide reproductive health services.

"Our biggest constraint is human resources. We do not have enough health workers to offer these services," Enoch Kibinguchy, Kenya's Assistant Health Minister, told IPS at the Addis Ababa conference.

Inter Press Service reported in Push Journal 24/Mar/06
SOURCE: Push Journal, 24/Mar/06

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