Members of Parliament from Health Committee and Legal Affairs have asked civil society organizations working on adoption of Termination of Pregnancy Bill, popularly known as “Abortion Bill” to dialogue with other sectors of the society on the issue of abortion.
More than 55 organizations under Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA) are championing the passing of newly developed Termination of Pregnancy Bill which needs parliamentary approval to become law, to make it easier for women to get safe abortions.
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.
The bill would 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.
The MPs have also proposed meetings of religious leaders and chiefs so that they are the ones who should help in taking the message to the people.
Parliamentarians also proposed that there is need for adequate sensitization of the bill at local level so that everyone especially at village level is aware of the bill.
Speaking in Mangochi on Saturday, during a day workshop on the proposed bill and its way forward, Chairperson of Parliamentary Health Committee, Juliana Lunguzi of Dedza East said it is not easy for Members of Parliament to convince people on the need for women to access safe abortion services without a proper dialogue.
“Abortion is a sensitive matter. It is difficult for Parliamentarians to sit down under the tree with the people and say go and abort. People will easily say that the MP is allowing killing. We need wider consultations. Let also talk about preventive measures on unwanted pregnancies ,” said Lunguzi.
Member of Parliament for Salima North, Dr. Jessie Kabwila, said that there is no Bill in parliament and it is too early for MPs to come up with a position and asked for more time and consultation with local Malawians on the issue.
“We have not met as Women Caucus. It is too early to say anything as a Caucus. We will need the views of those who voted for us. However as women we are not happy that fellow women are dying because of unsafe abortion,” she said.
Agness Nyalonje from Mzimba North advised civil society organization to engage religious groups over the matter so that faith groups are part of the solution.
MPs revealed that a group opposing abortion known as Culture of Life Africa led by a Nigerian lady based in UK Ms Obianuju Ekeocha and Ms Travon Clifton from USA met them at Cross Roads Hotel in Lilongwe on Wednesday evening to oppose abortion bill.
“It was an emotional meeting but we were not told how to stop deaths of women. This shows that there is need of dialogue,” said one MP at this meeting.
A senior gynecology lecture at the College of Medicine, Dr Chisale Mhango, backed the law reform on abortion. Mhango said current laws of Malawi allow abortion but they are restrictive.
“Section 243 of the Penal Code allows surgical operation abortion to save the life of a woman. But there are no guidelines for health workers. Therefore reforming the law is necessary,” said Mhango.
Mhango said, studies so far have indicated that 75 Percent of country’s beds are being occupied by women being treated with post abortion complications. He said currently Malawi is losing USD1Million in post abortion care and treatment.
Malawi Government established a Special Law Commission on Review of Abortion Laws in 2013 which released its report in July and scrapped criminalization of individuals procuring abortion.
The commission recommended termination of pregnancy to save the life of a woman, retaining the current section 243 of the Penal Code.
However COPUA has criticized the proposed Bill that it is still very restrictive.
“The new Bill does not allow abortion on demand and on social economic reasons which means thousands women will still not qualify for abortion,” said recently Chairperson of COPUA, Godfrey Kangaude.
At a meeting Society of Medical Doctors at Sun and Sand hotel in Mangochi in September, some doctors raised concern that the proposed Termination of Pregnancy may not address the problem as the new law is still restrictive.
“The church has influenced a lot the content of the proposed Bill hence these restrictions . Government review these new restrictions“, said one doctor based at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The Catholic Church has 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,” Father Henry Saindi, Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, is on record saying.
When passed into law, Malawi will join Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Cape Verde and Ghana among African countries in having a clear law on how to terminate pregnancy.
Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Clement Chiwaya opened the meeting where he asked members of Parliament to be serious in discussing matters that affect Malawians.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :