Abortion; Is It a Right or an Expedience!

We are living in a fast changing world in which attitudes towards sexuality and procreation are evolving by the day, a situation in which over 20mn women perform abortions, 95% of them unsafe, much as the practice is criminal.

A recent survey on girls aged between 15-24 years in Uganda shows that at least 23% of girls/women in this age bracket have carried out an abortion, most of them in northern Uganda where rape was used as a weapon in the more than twenty-year war. In this practice that is as old as man, 8 unsafe pregnancy terminations are carried out every passing hour as a birth control method. This makes it important that medical centers should rather give women proper information, enabling them to make informed decisions about their fecundity.

Ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Romans had perfected the means of carrying out abortions, a practice that was at the time considered an integral part of maintaining a stable population and supported by sages including Socrates, Pluto and Hippocrates of the Greek civilization. Then, morality did not place any social stigma on abortion, but over the years, the position of the church on this matter has evolved, eventually equating abortion to murder with the justification that the destruction of an embryo/life would rarely be carried out without having to sacrifice the mother’s life.

While many developed countries have a degree of tolerance to abortion, the practice remains illegal although widely practiced in the developing world, Uganda inclusive. In Kenya where it is punishable by 14years in jail, 50% of gynecological admissions arise from complications resulting from incomplete abortions. Only two of Africa’s countries (Togo and Tunisia) have legalised the practice.

While Uganda has to cope with a fertility rate of 7.1, and the highest registered population growth rate in Africa, it also has a mortality rate of 1200 deaths per 10,000 births and of the deaths, 35% are due to abortions gone wrong. That these statistics are on the rise is confirmation of the place tradition has consigned woman to in society; the average woman neither has a say about her reproductive rights, her fertility, family size, child spacing nor is she free to choose whether to have children or not at all. Studies show that over 10,000 unsafe abortions are carried out every day by the under-25yearlings in Africa because they are worse off if they keep a child they conceived out of wedlock and dammed if they abort the pregnancy, given the moral stigma (and legal implications) associated with the act.

It is with these considerations that young women take desperate risks to induce abortions, including the insertion of plants’ twigs and roots into their cervix, or the consumption of potentially lethal substances like detergents, gasoline and aspirin and chloroquine overdoses. Cases of the use of knitting needles, cloth hangers, catheters, caustic substances, toxic herbal teas and drugs are also known.

While I am by no means justifying abortion, my argument is that the laws safeguarding the freedom of thought, conscience and belief that also dispense religious liberties, are not protective of some people from the larger beliefs, morals and ethics of the anti-abortion lobby. Viewed from another standpoint, the law is in violation of the constitution for failing to protect women’s rights, considering their unique status and natural maternal functions in society.

The law would rather guard women from the cultural practices, customs and traditions that are against their dignity, welfare and interests and indeed provide them with facilities and opportunities they require to realize their full potential. The continued criminalization of abortion places women at the mercy of quacks with a potential to rob them of their right to life, yet the state should have universally provided such health services as a matter of obligation

By: Kaviri Ali