COPUA engages actors in unsafe abortion law reform drive

Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA) has engaged artists to intensify the advocacy drive on the need to reform abortion laws and policies at the time the country is grappling with post-unsafe abortions implications.

Actors performing a play on safe abortion
Actors performing a play on safe abortion

On Sunday and Monday a team of actors stormed the districts of Thyolo and Mulanje to create awareness among rural masses especially women on the need to push for restrictive abortion law reform with figures showing that about 70,000 women have abortions in Malawi every year translating into 24 abortions for every 1,000 women aged between 15 and 44.

Malawi has one of the highest Maternal Mortality Ratios in the world with 675 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies, and unsafe abortion contributes about 17 percent of the deaths.

And a survey report by COPUA says about 31, 000 Malawian women are treated for complications of unsafe abortion annually; 50 percent are young girls below 25 years of age while 80 percent are married women and 64 percent are rural girls and women.

Community Response

During a series of interactive theatre performances in the villages under Senior Chief Chikumbu and Senior Chief Ngolongoliwa in Mulanje and in Thyolo respectively, it was observed that aside the legal framework and policies, traditional leaders were also on the forefront fueling unsafe abortions.

Reacting to the theatre performances that featured renowned actors like Mafumu Matiki, Charles Mphoka, Misheck Mzumara, Mphundu Mjumira, Linda Chatha, Lewis Thembachako Msamba, Jacobs Mwase, Frank Mbewe, Macarthur Matukuta, among others, communities in the two districts revealed that some traditional leaders put punitive measure against women seeking abortion even when their lives are in danger.

It was also revealed that economic and social constraints impact negatively on rural women, forcing them to seek unsafe abortions since they cannot afford to pay for maternity services.

“There is a need for government to allow women to have safe abortion in public hospitals because people in rural areas cannot afford to pay for the services,” explained Christina Mungomo.

Mungomo, 35 years old and a mother of six children, said the tendency by some chiefs who put restrictive measures to curb abortions somehow influence women to use unsafe methods to abort pregnancies.

“It is a good move by the traditional leaders but that affects poor people; and yes abortion is wrong but we have to accept that we can’t tame each and every pregnancy,” she added.

Village Headman Huyiye and Senior Chief Chikumbu concurred with the communities that some traditional leaders set punitive measures against women seeking abortion.

Muhiye while supporting the law reform warned stakeholders to trade carefully on the issue, arguing relaxation of the law might allow women abort pregnancies anyhow.


And Senior Chief Chikumbu said the law should be reformed, arguing “Whether you restrict abortion or not, some women will still be doing it. So why not reforming the law so that we protect the lives of those seeking unsafe abortions?”

According to COPUA, women in Malawi seek abortions due to poverty and inability to support more children; the desire of young girls to remain in school; extra-marital pregnancy; partner insistence and parental insistence.

The organizations also reveals that women also abort after getting pregnancy from prostitution and when the pregnancy is too close to the previous pregnancy and also pregnancy that is the result of defilement, rape or incest.

Others abort to avoid being expelled from the Church or restrictions in work policies on maternity leave or restrictions in private medical insurance schemes and also when the relationship is abusive.

According to World Health Organization unsafe abortion remains one of the leading causes of maternal mortality accounting for 47, 000 of the 358, 000 annual pregnancy- related deaths worldwide thus globally 13 percent of all pregnancy related deaths are due to unsafe abortions.

WHO says 6.2 million unsafe abortions occur in Africa each year and about 5.5 million of these occur in sub Saharan countries.

In Malawi approximately 70,000 women have abortions every year and 30,000 of those women are treated for complications of unsafe abortion. Public run health care facilities spend about US$300,000-US$500,000 annually in caring for post-abortion care implications.

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