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Parliament committee chair backs abortion law

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Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on health Mathews Ngwale has backed calls for reform to the country’s Termination of Pregnancy law, describing the current one as too restrictive and prohibitive.

Abortion is legal in Malawi but only allowed when the pregnancy poses a serious threat to the life of the pregnant woman.

Several stakeholders including the Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (Copua) and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) advocates Ipas have been calling for amendments to add rape, incest and molestation as other reasons a woman can use to seek safe abortion in the country’s hospital as recommended by the special law commission on the abortion law years ago.

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Currently, a motion to amend the law was already moved in Parliament and reading is expected soon so that Members of Parliament can vote on the amendments.

Speaking during a SRHR Youth Conference on International Safe Abortion Day in Blantyre on Monday, Ngwale said he was optimistic that Parliament will pass the amendments “to make it safer for our women”.

Ngwale said the current abortion law pushes away those who need help apart from creating negative attitudes among health workers to assist women who seek care in public health facilities after unsafe abortion complications.

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“I am optimistic that these amendments will be passed in Parliament because blocking such reforms places the lives of women and girls in danger of dying due to complications associated with pregnancy and giving birth,” Ngwale said.

In her remarks during the conference, Copua chairperson Emma Kaliya said time has come for women to make their own choices regarding their bodies.

“This is a human rights issue; many women are dying due to complications resulting from unsafe abortion, so we need law reform to save women from dying because in other countries where there is law reform, the population of women dying due to pregnancy related issues has gone down,” Kaliya said.

At 18 percent, unsafe abortion is said to be one of the leading causes of death due to pregnancy and childbearing complications in Malawi where 439 in every 100,000 women die every year due to childbirth complications.

The figures are reportedly higher in Malawi than in neighbouring Zambia (at 213 deaths per 100,000) where the abortion law was reformed to allow for more reasons for which women may abort.

Some religious leaders have been speaking against the new bill and threatened that they would hold demonstrations if Parliament passed it with a view to coax President Lazarus Chakwera not to assent to the bill.

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