The discourse whether women should be allowed to procure safe abortion has been going on for the longest time in many African nations with some supporting the act while others term it as illegal.
While some nations like Cape Verde, South Africa, and Tunisia, permits abortion without restriction as to the reason, but with gestational limits, others like Zambia only allow it on socioeconomic grounds.
On the other hand, abortion is illegal in Malawi and is punishable by a maximum of 14 years unless it is done to save the life of a woman.
However, this could soon be a thing of the past, if the recently published Termination of Pregnancy Bill, is approved by parliament to become law.
Once it becomes law, those who seek the services from backstreet dealers will be saved. Each year, about 70,000 Malawian women get the services from quacks with 31,000 of them experiencing complications, including death, according to government figures.
Shocked at the high rates of death associated with procuring unsafe abortions, some Malawian pastors are supporting the bill aimed at preventing unsafe abortions.
"I am shocked to learn that many girls and women are admitted to our hospitals every year as a result of complications sustained during procurement of unsafe abortions," lamented Prophet Amos Tchuma of the Faith of God Ministries based in the northern Malawi city of Mzuzu.
He grieved over the situation in the country noting that some women have been forced to use bicycle spokes, cassava sticks, and poisonous substances to induce abortions due to the country’s prohibitive law.
According to the prophet, regardless of his church’s stand, he said he supports government's move to review the outdated abortion law to allow women to receive safe abortion services in public hospitals.
Government’s efforts to reduce the high rates of maternal mortality
In an effort to reduce the high rates of maternal mortality in Malawi, the government drafted the Termination of the Pregnancy Bill in July 2015.
The government’s decision has been hailed by activists with some like Jane Serwanga, a lawyer with the rights group Equality Now saying that Malawi is “setting the pace on the African continent towards protecting women and girls”.
The provisions in the bill legalize abortions which result from rape or incest, endanger the lives of the women, may cause mental or physical health complications or where the foetus is severely deformed.
Others who are behind the government, are women health experts who are praising Malawi for gathering evidence as a basis for tackling one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
With support from the United Nations and World Health Organization, the health ministry, drove the reform process by gathering data and research on public opinion on the issue.
Statistics showed that unsafe abortion accounts for 17 percent of maternal deaths in Malawi, and post-abortion care costs the government $1 million a year.
Catholic clerics stand firm against a culture that supports death
But the stand of the Catholic Church is still unmoved. The bishops mourned the death of morality in Malawi arguing that people were conforming to new trends that are promoting the culture of death.
"We are deeply concerned about new trends in our society that promote a culture of death instead of a culture of life through the abortion campaign," the bishops stated in a March 13 pastoral letter.
According to the Catholic clerics, “those who have been raped and found to be pregnant... have to be helped to accept their situation and the gift that God has given them," Henry Saindi, head of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, was quoted as saying in the Nyasa Times.
Nevertheless, Chrispine Sibande, national coordinator of the Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion believes that the bill will be passed as all religious groups were involved in the process.
According to Prophet Tchuma, some religious leaders are opposing the law reform due to ignorance. He told News24 that lack of knowledge and misinformation has become “a fertile ground for breeding fundamentalism and fanaticism”.
Image Credit: Adrian Neal