There is a raging debate regarding abortion after statistics from a study by the Ministry of Health and African Population and Health Research Center revealed that over 465,000 abortions were procured in Kenya in 2012 through clandestine and unsafe medical procedures. Why is this so?
The law that prohibits abortion in Kenya is one of the oldest and archaic pieces of legislation in our statutes. The Penal Code, Chapter 63 Laws of Kenya needs serious reform to ensure Kenyans enjoyed the fundamental human rights guaranteed in the constitution.
Article 27 of the Constitution provides that every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law. It provides further that women and men have the right to equal treatment before that law and obligates the State to take legislative and other steps including affirmative action to ensure that all citizens including disadvantaged groups have equal enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms. The National Assembly should speedily repeal sections 158,159 and 160 of the Penal Code criminalize and make abortion illegal. The government should go further and provide the services needed for termination of pregnancies at all major public hospitals.
This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, while the study did not indicate whether all the pregnancies terminated emanated from consensual sexual relations, the high rate of reported sexual and violent crime such as rape, domestic violence, incest and defilement means that a large number of girls and women in this country stand a very high risk of becoming pregnant against their will. The socio-psycho trauma of bringing up a child conceived as a result of rape, incest and defilement is unbearable. Any society worth its status ought to enact laws and social norms that protect rather than denigrate the weak and the marginalized. Secondly, the rapid rate of urbanization and the attendant erosion of our traditional values have resulted in numerous social problems. The blind aping of foreign ideologies and the adoption of morally inferior western culture has resulted in increasing numbers of teen pregnancies. The inevitable consequence is the birth of many unwanted children especially in our urban centers. Moralists who are opposed to the legalization of abortion should demonstrate responsibility by taking responsibility for such children.
It is immoral to live in affluence and privilege while many continue to wallow in abject poverty. It is even worse when the privileged class seeks to impose its “morality” regarding the right to procreate on victims.
Finally, outlawing abortion denies women the right to take control of their productive powers. Legalising abortion willl give qualified medical personnel the ability to set up institutions where the procedure can be carried out safely using the right equipment. This will give our women and girls the ability to exercise their right to determine if, when and with who to bear children. This study has revealed that abortion is carried out in secret in unsafe underground facilities often by unqualified people who do not have the right equipment. That is why the Kenyatta National Hospital, the regional referral medical centre has a specialized unit that deals solely with complications arising out of botched abortions.
We cannot continue to ignore the reality that abortion is happening all over the country. Pretending otherwise is to live in a fool’s paradise. Women must take control over their productive powers. It is their fundamental human right. Our male dominated Parliament should take heed and legalize abortion to the extent allowed by the Constitution. The author is the chairperson of the Kenya Institute of Forensic Auditors (KeIFA) and comments on topical issues.