Few days after CCAP Nkhoma Synod called the nation to reject legalisation of abortion; the Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (Copua) has said the Synod is contradicting itself because abortion in Malawi is already legal as provided under section 243 of the Penal Code.
Section 243 of the Penal Code says performing an abortion is not a crime if it is done “for the preservation of the mother’s life, if the performance of the operation is reasonable, having regard to the patient’s state at the time, and to all the circumstances of the case.”
In a statement signed by its advocacy officer Bright Mhango, Copua said it is “glad that the synod in point number 6 of their statement is actually in agreement with what we are asking.”
“By saying abortion can be procured under ‘clearly stipulated medical ethics which be applied when the life of the mother or child is in danger’ the Synod is right but the point is that there are no such guidelines in Malawi. The guidelines have to start with the law,” said Mhango a former journalist with The Nation newspaper.
He underlined that Malawi is not at stage for trying to debate whether abortion is good or not, or whether life begins at conception or not but rather what should be content of the law taking into account the various issues looking at the dangerous situation the country is in at the moment.
Mhango further argued that apart from this section, there are hardly standards and guidelines to guide citizens, policy makers, NGOs, Ministry of Health, specialists, doctors, clinical officers, nurses, midwives and medical assistants on how to apply this section.
“Section 243 vague, for example it fails to answer questions such as ‘who makes a decision that the pregnancy should be terminated between doctor or patient? At what stage can this decision be made? At which health centre facility? What are the counseling guidelines? What about religious beliefs? What about family planning awareness?” argued Mhango.
In Malawi, according to data from a 2011 Ministry of Health report, more than 70,000 women have abortions every year, or, 24 abortions for every 1000 women aged 15-44 and approximately 31,000 are treated for complications of unsafe abortion annually.
The World Health Organisation has created a set of guidelines on performing safe abortion and Copua argues that Malawi should adopt such expert advice.