Why we need separation of church, state on abortion laws


With Jenna Cocullo


Globally, women’s rights have been making significant progress these past few weeks when it comes to contentious debate on abortion.


Last month in a landslide vote — 66.4% for repealing anti-abortion legislation and 33.6% against — the women of Ireland won their rights to expand access to abortions. Last week in Argentina, at the end of a lengthly 23 hour debate, congress legalized abortions up to 14 weeks into a pregnancy.

But while women in other parts of the world are busy gaining their rights, the United States is slowly taking them away. On Tuesday, their supreme court ruled in favour of faith-based ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ who are no longer obliged to inform women that free or low-cost abortions may be options elsewhere. Things could only get worse. With a new vacancy announced on the supreme court, right-wing activist will seize this opportunity to repeal Roe vs. Wade, a landmark decision in 1973 that decriminalized access to abortions.

Historically, main opposition to abortion laws stem from religious affiliations, so when states are proposing to repeal their pro-choice legislation, essentially what they are saying is that they are taking directives from the church. Ireland and Argentina’s historical votes signal the dwindling hold of the church’s values over their constitutions – as it should be. But the United States’ actions signal a regression. Malawi is tethering on either side.


Malawi’s Termination of Pregnancy Bill of 2015, which proposed to expand legal abortions to include cases of rape, fetal malformation, and incest has yet to be passed by parliament. Health care experts here informed me that as a result of strong opposition from the church, the bill has still not be implemented by government.

The definition of a secular state is one that governs without influence from religious factions. The church has many rules and positions, for example it has a position against alcohol but it cannot go to the state and say that you cannot buy alcohol in the country. So it is problematic when the state is taking cues from religious groups on what to do on it’s positions on abortions.

If we look at abortion laws without the churches arguments, then there is no compelling reason left to deny women safe and legal access to terminate her pregnancy.

In the past abortions were criminalized to protect a women’s lives because many were dying during the procedures. However, with new technologies and better health facilities these reasons no longer hold any validity because it is now safe for women to receive abortions in medical clinics, and it is illegal abortions that are forcing them to put their lives at risk.

In the United Kingdom they reformed their abortion laws when unsafe abortions contributed to 14% of their maternal mortality rate. Here in Malawi unsafe abortions contribute to 18%.

Each day doctors at Queen’s hospital see 15-20 women seeking post abortion care after they tried to terminate their pregnancy themselves or through unqualified doctors. A lot of the women have their wombs removed because they don’t use sterile stuff to procure their abortions. They come in with rotting wombs after they insert sticks in their vagina to abort the child.

Generally 80% of women seeking abortion are married and their reason for termination is simply because it was unplanned, meaning they do not qualify for safe legal abortions, so even if the law passed it would still not be enough to protect women.

Of course religious groups will continue to protest in the name of saving lives, but let’s not forget that a liberal abortion law does not force anyone to have an abortion. So while not everyone might be pro-abortion they can certainly be pro-choice.

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