Malawi Christian doctors say ‘liberalizing abortion bill must fall’

Doctors under Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship in Malawi (CMDF-Malawi) have urged government to critically reassess the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill and stop its passage through Parliament as the Bill does not provide safety for women and their unborn babies in the process infringing on the rights of women, children and unborn babies which according to the grouping deserve respect and value the law.

Malawian midwife Rustica Banda, attending to a newborn baby in need of resuscitation at Mitundu Community Hospital near Lilongwe in 2005. This under-resourced rural hospital delivers 10 to 13 babies a day.Gideon Mendel / Corbis

Malawian midwife Rustica Banda, attending to a newborn baby in need of resuscitation at Mitundu Community Hospital near Lilongwe . This under-resourced rural hospital delivers 10 to 13 babies a day.Gideon Mendel / Corbis

Abortion is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in jail in Malawi, unless it is required to save a woman’s life.

This pushes 70,000 Malawian women to have backstreet terminations each year, 31,000 of which result in complications, including death, according to government figures.

Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which needs parliamentary approval to become law, would make it easier for women to get safe abortions.

In a published statement and also made available to Nyasa Times, CMDF-Malawi disputes the assertions that have been made by some medical professionals, abortion activists, and religious leaders that support for safe abortion is the way forward for Malawi in as far as reducing maternal mortality.

“Review of cases of maternal deaths over a 3 year period in one of Malawi’s rural areas (Nkhoma) shows that only 6% of mothers who died were due to abortion complications. In the same community, reduction of annual maternal deaths from 31 to 3 over a seventh year period was accomplished without changing approach to abortions.

“This finding indicates that improvements to maternal mortality in rural Malawi should focus on the other more common factors that cause maternal mortality rather than focus on abortion” reads the statement.

The statement also cites the case studies of other Africa countries like Egypt and Mauritius that have registered remarkable reduction of maternal mortality despite having restrictive abortion laws.

“Reflecting on the fact that Zambia has had a law similar to the one being proposed for over 40 years with no significant impact on the number of illegal and unsafe abortions, it is unwise for the government of Malawi to proceed with this legislation. Furthermore, if such a causal link exists between the liberalization of abortion and reduction of maternal mortality, it should follow that countries with restrictive abortion laws should have high maternal mortality, which is not the case in countries like Egypt and Mauritius which are among the top five countries in Sub Saharan Africa with the lowest maternal mortality ration,” argues the grouping.

The Special Law Commission recommended the law to allow women to terminate pregnancies which result from rape or incest, endanger their lives, may cause mental or physical health complications, or where the foetus is severely malformed.

However, CMDF-Malawi faults the wording in the proposed “abortion” bill which in spite of not being as liberal as the South African Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act 1996 the inclusion of a clause allowing termination on the grounds of “preventing injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman’ has led other countries to effectively practice ‘abortion on demand’ which the Law Commission have specifically stated they want to avoid.

“A UK government report states that around 98% of the 6.7 million abortions performed in the United Kingdom since liberalization in the abortion law in 1967 have taken place under this clause. The report by the Special Law Commission further states that the mother should be at risk of being ‘physical or mental wreck’ according to assessment by a psychiatrist. Neither of these statements is appropriate or realistic.  There are no medical or psychiatric criteria to define the terms ‘physical or mental wreck’ included in the Special Law Commission wording. This leaves the clause wide to individual interpretation.”

The statement adds:“Current data from the scientific literature shows that while there is an increase in mental illness resulting from carrying an unwanted pregnancy, this risk is the same whether the woman has an abortion or goes to give birth. Therefore, having an abortion does not reduce the risk of mental illness”.

The grouping further add that they only support termination of pregnancy that arises when a woman’s life is in danger or a life threatening foetal abnormality has been objectively diagnosed.

“As Christian health professionals working daily with patients and families in hospitals and communities across Malawi, we only support termination of pregnancy when a woman’s life is in danger or a life threatening foetal abnormality has been objectively diagnosed. Pregnancies arising from other pertinent psychosocial circumstances like unplanned rape and/or incest require more comprehensive solutions than liberalization of termination of pregnancy,” the statement reads.

The group says it strongly recommend that permissible termination of pregnancy services be planned with a comprehensive care package that includes psychosocial therapy and support services as well as options for care provision to children born from unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.

Recently the local media has been awash with the debate on the proposed termination of pregnancy bill with some Civil Society organisations like COPUA IPAS, international organisations promoting the rights of women, and the leadership of Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) in support of the move as a way to reduce maternal mortality. On the other hand, it has been the CCAP Nkhoma Synod, Livingstonia Synod and the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) who have out rightly rejected such calls premised on Biblical grounds.

The Catholic Church has  also publicly opposed the bill.

“Those who have been raped and found to be pregnant… have to be helped to accept their situation and the gift that God has given them,” Henry Saindi, head of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi tol Nyasa Times.

The bill is expected to be tabled at Cabinet level for approval before taken to Parliament for deliberations and possible enactment.

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l phriri

Thou shall not kill

This is a very important bill and debate. Reform is necessary because every life matters. To suggest that nothing should be done based on the 6% Mulanje statistic is wrong. Bottom line should be no one should die from abortion related complications. That can only be achieved if the procedure is regulated and people are allowed to legally procure it. The practice in most developed countries is that abortion is generally legal on demand within the first trimester – off course the limits range from 24 to 28 weeks. Thereafter, the procedure is restricted to reasons similar to the ones… Read more »
Dr Tonde

Who are members of this so called christian group of doctors who sound hollow and stupid in my opinion!

l phriri

who is tonde to sound hollw and stupid against God … remember thou shall not kill… dr. repent!

I totally support the bill even though I am Christian and Catholic because, first, pregnancy severely affects women whilst men walk around freely, abandon and refuse to look after children, which in my view is the same as killing. Second, our population is too high and as a result families and government is failing to provide the necessities of life. Consequently, our death rate is high and life expectancy low. What has the church done about this? Churches in Malawi should shut up and Christian doctors and nurses should stop bringing their bigoted views and the issue of religion into… Read more »
What are you having? Fanta or what? You have said the truth!! To add on that why is it that usually it’s men that feel inclined to make decisions for women? On top of that, why are we stuck on “thou shall not kill” . Let’s wake up we are a God fearing country (said sarcastically) we should know better that God will not ask the likes of l phriri about me,you or anybody else.. we will be judged according to our individual sin.. And let’s not forget all sins are equal in the sight of the Lord so even… Read more »

Rev Baloi of ccap ddp camp
is chairman of Task force of abortionists against the ccap stand

be humane

Did these people advocating for passage of this Bill made a research and found out that people who fall pregnant from rape or incest want to abort? Is that not just a far fetch wishful assumption? Let them publicise that report otherwise their advocacy is not evidence based

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