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TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY: Medics, lawyers want law strengthened

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Some medical practitioners and human rights lawyers have said the current Termination of Pregnancy Bill, if it were to be passed into law, would not help solving any problem in reducing deaths resulting from unsafe abortion, as it is desired.

The activists have faulted the composition of the Special law commission which came up with the Termination of Pregnancy Bill in question claiming that it had many religious leaders, a thing which they feel compromised the contents.

They further note that the Bill does not include abortion on demand and that the bill does not provide termination of pregnancy on social economic grounds.

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They also argue that it is not right that a woman who wants to terminate the pregnancy on rape grounds should first report to the police as this would encourage women to opt for unsafe means.

Deputy Chief Law reform officer for Malawi Law Commission, Mike Chikono, says that currently the law allows the termination of pregnancy where it is necessary to save the life of the mother and the law also limits this to surgical operation.

He said the Special Commission, having considered and deliberated on the issue, proposed that termination of pregnancy generally should remain an offence but that the exceptions should be expanded to provide for more grounds that would warrant termination.

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“To save the life of the mother, to preserve the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman in cases of severe foetal malformation which will affect its viability or compatibility with life, in cases of rape, incest or defilement provided that this will be done within 16 weeks of gestation,” he recently told journalists in Mangochi.

Chinoko also highlighted that through the proposed law, it shall be an offence where a service provider performs the procedure in circumstances other than the prescribed grounds, where a person, not being one of the certified health providers, performs the procedure.

This includes women procuring abortions on their own, performing the procedure at a place not approved by the minister, unlawfully supplying any substance that is intended to be used to terminate a pregnancy, where a pregnant woman obtains abortion services under the pretence that they were sexually assaulted when in fact they were not and forcing a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy.

Reproductive Health officer in the Ministry of Health, Lastone Chikoti said the proposed bill has gaps in addressing the magnitude of the unsafe abortion problem as noted in the study that was done in 2009.

The study among others highlighted that 70,000 women aged 15-44 years have abortions every year in Malawi and 31,000 of them are treated of complications at Malawi health facilities.

Chikoti said the study established that one in five women experience severe complications while most admissions to the gynaecological wards in Malawi’s major hospitals is abortion complications.

“We needed a bill that was open for a woman (in need) to be able to procure a safe abortion from zero to three months. The current proposed bill is only addressing rape, incest and others. Women will be forced to lie even though there are penalties just for them to access safe abortion,” he said

Human rights lawyer, Chikondi Ngwira said the gaps in the proposed termination of pregnancy bill will create other gaps in addressing unsafe abortion problem in Malawi.

“It will end up not addressing the problems at all. I would urge the parliamentarians to have an open mind to people expressing problems that women are raising.

“Unsafe abortion due to restrictive laws has greatly contributed to deaths. Malawi is one of the countries with high maternal mortality rate. Let’s learn from what is happening in other countries,” she said.

Senior lecturer at College of Medicine, Chisale Mhango, who was one of the commissioners to review abortion laws in Malawi said the current proposed bill has added three other exceptions for procurement of abortion but it still needs strengthening.

“The Bill was drafted based on the consultations done in 18 districts of the country to hear people’s views; people said it shouldn’t be free for all.

“If I had my way I would have wanted the law to be stronger than this… All the same we will continue with research to monitor if it’s working. We can always have another review,” he said.

Mhango disclosed that health facilities are overwhelmed with treating unsafe abortion complications saying, “Safe abortion is much easier to provide than dealing with post abortion care.”

The Gender Equality Act covers the right to access sexual and reproductive health services which is complemented by a right to information about sexual and reproductive health services to enable users of those services to make informed choices.

Malawi Law Commission finished working on the draft bill and report in July 2015 and it is yet to be discussed in Parliament.

Abortion is illegal in Malawi, except in selected circumstances and efforts to have the law liberalised have come under protest from various quarters, especially religious groupings.

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