Attempts by pro-abortion stakeholders to bring to Parliament the Termination of Pregnancy Bill hit a dead-end Thursday when mover of the motion, Chiradzulu West lawmaker Matthews Ngwale, withdrew the motion from the august House, effectively quashing any hopes on the matter.
Speaking after withdrawing the motion, which has been appearing on the Parliamentary Order Paper for a long time, Ngwale blamed the situation on lack of pressure from citizens, who he felt had not pressurised Parliament to debate the matter.
Among other provisions, the legislation sought to increase reasons through which abortion services could be procured in Malawi to include pregnancy borne out of rape, incest or when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s physical or mental health.
But, according to Ngwale, since he first introduced the motion to the House, he has been receiving criticism from lawmakers from both sides of the House on why he was pushing for the bill.
Ngwale said Malawian women themselves, who are supposed to be the ultimate beneficiaries of the bill, have not done enough to pressurise parliamentarians to debate the matter.
“I am not a woman. I have never been pregnant but was just concerned with the challenges our women face in the absence of such legislation,” Ngwale said.
He added that if Malawian women and girls moved forward in large numbers to force Parliament to debate the matter, lawmakers would have no option but to do the needful because they would realise that that is what Malawians want.
“It is up to non-governmental organisations in the health sector to intensify sensitisation campaigns on the importance of this legislation so that Malawians can appreciate its significance and demand their rights from lawmakers,” Ngwale said.
Reacting to the withdrawal of the motion, the Centre for Solutions Journalism (CSJ), which has been advocating tabling of the motion, commended Ngwale for the move, saying the withdrawal would give stakeholders ample time to continue sensitising and civic-educating others about the bill.
CSJ Executive Director Penelope Paliani Kamanga said her organisation believes that, once civic-educated the bill, most Malawians would support its enactment to save the lives of women and girls who die after procuring unsafe abortion services.
“Safe motherhood advocates can now reach out to many stakeholders, including Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament, through sensitisation campaigns,” Kamanga said.
Unsafe abortions contribute up to 18 percent of maternal deaths in Malawi. According to research by Kamuzu University of Health Sciences, formerly College of Medicine, over 141,000 women in Malawi induce abortions every year.
A motion to introduce the Termination of Pregnancy Bill first came to Parliament on March 11 this year but was unanimously shot down by lawmakers.
Last year, the country’s religious leaders—under the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, Muslim Association of Malawi, Qadria Muslim Association of Malawi, Malawi Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of Malawi— spoke vehemently against the proposed bill to increase the number of reasons for abortion.
Leader of the Catholic Church Archbishop Thomas Msusa said human life is a fundamental value because God created human beings in His image and likeness.
“We read in Jeremiah 1:5 that, before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you. As such, human life must be preserved and protected with extreme care from conception.
“No institution including Parliament, courts, the Executive arm of government and non-governmental organisations or foreign agencies have the legal right to terminate life except God. Abortion is immoral and sinful because it is against God’s commandments,” Msusa said.