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Why is Malawi the odd one out?

By Penelope Paliani:

On 28 September, Malawi joined the world to mark the International Safe Abortion Day. For 2019, the day was celebrated with the theme: “Abortion is healthcare” and #MyAbortionMyHealth because unintended and unwanted pregnancy and abortion are part of women’s lives.

According to the World Health Organisation, 25 percent of all pregnancies worldwide end in induced abortions, thereby contributing significantly to maternal deaths.

The theme is very relevant because abortion is an essential part of women’s sexual and reproductive lives and health; and is essential to women’s right to bodily autonomy.

The theme is actually in line with the ongoing campaign of My Body My Choice. My Body My Choice calls for an end to stigma around abortion and affirms the right of women to make choices about their own bodies, health and lives. It also calls upon governments that are still dillydallying in making sure that there is a law that allows women to safely abort without complications. The campaign works to address specific barriers that limit access to safe abortion in the world.

Surely Malawi cannot afford to be left a behind considering that unsafe abortions continue to be a leading cause of disability and death among young women, with over 141,000 unsafe abortions happening every year whether we like it or not.

Even despite the fact that many simple measures exist to prevent these saddening human casualties: contraception usage, sex education but most importantly: access to safe abortion.

In as much as abortion is one of the most common of all medical procedures, it is still highly stigmatized, and all too often people do not feel they can talk about their experiences. Just me taking my laptop writing about this issue I know already eyebrows will be raised. How can that one write about such an issue when she is a Christian?

But we have seen that making abortion illegal or hard to access has not made it any less common; it has just made more it dangerous. Here in Malawi and around the world, tens of thousands of women continue to die from unsafe abortions every year.

People who support abortion rights have been fighting hard to create a world in which the right to access safe and legal abortion services is guaranteed. The opposition to this has been intense and sometimes violent, and victories have been hard won.

The long fight for abortion rights is being picked up by a new generation of courageous, creative and passionate activists.

Here is what it comes down to. Just recently we went to Mulanje for a reproductive health awareness meeting. During the meeting, a story was told of a 16-year-old who was raped when robbers entered her house. They killed her twin brother and her father, as if that was not enough she was raped and made pregnant.

A question was asked whether it was wise to force the girl to keep the pregnancy. In another incident, a story was told of a 12-year-old who was defiled by her uncle and she got pregnant. The same question was asked whether it was proper to force her to keep the incestuous pregnancy.

Our current laws demand that these pregnancies should be kept and anyone who is caught helping these girls in terminating such unwanted pregnancies should be prosecuted.

It’s easy to see, by any sane moral measure, how a regime that forces a child to carry this pregnancy to full term and give birth is monstrous, heartless, and immoral. And it’s just as clear that a state that threatens to kill that child unless she bears that pregnancy to full term and gives birth is morally equivalent to the rapist— taking away that little girl’s agency, declaring that her pain is unimportant, that she has no right to decide who has access to her body.

You can imagine the torture these girls are to endure of a pregnancy they detest and which came in the most violent way. For at least nine months, they must dedicate their bodies to the sustenance of another. They will probably experience weeks of sickness and tiredness. Itchiness, varicose veins, chronic heartburn and piles are among the common ailments.

Many government policies emphasizes on the need to address the issue of unsafe abortions.

The National Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for 2017-2022 notes that Malawi as a signatory to the African Union Maputo Plan of Action has responsibility of ensuring the “reduction of the incidence of unsafe abortion.”

Malawi’s proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill is in line with this approved government policy. Once enacted, the proposed bill will address the problem of unsafe abortions.

End Note. Rape victims in neighbouring countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Namibia are able to access safe abortion services in hospitals. Why is Malawi the odd one out?

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