Abortion a holy cow that we should debate

By Lahja Nashuuta

UNLIKE in the western world – abortions in almost all Africa are illegal. It is a highly controversial issue that many governments do their outmost to stay away from.  The citizenry is also divided over the matter.

There are those that believe abortion goes against the tenets of African values and traditions, and that from a religious stand point – it is unholy.  And there are those calling for legalisation of abortion, pointing to the fact that it will shield women from unnecessary death and emancipate them.

In Namibia, the abortion debate has been raging for many years. Abortion is still illegal under the Abortion and Sterilisation Act of 1975, an old law that the country adopted at independence from the South African former colonial regime.

The law only make exemptions for abortion in extreme situations like rape, incest, or endangerment of the mother’s or child’s life. Unlike Namibia, the new South African government has repealed the law and legalised abortion under the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (Act 92 of 1996), which was promulgated in 1997.

The abortion debate flared up in the National Assembly recently, during which female MPs from both the ruling party Swapo and the opposition ganged up and swiftly killed the discussion.

Deputy Speaker Loide Kasingo led the onslaught on abortion arguing that the practice should not be entertained because it is the same as murder. Others including former Health Minister Petrina Haingura and Maureen Hinda, the Deputy Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, opposed the legalisation of abortion in Namibia.

The debate came up after Health and Social Services Minister Dr Bernard Haufiku disclosed that 7 335 abortions cases recorded at public health centres across the country in 2016 – only 138 were performed in accordance with the law.

These figures somehow support the voices that call for the legalisation of abortion. The government figures show that the law in place just drove the practice to the backrooms instead of discouraging abortion completely.

Every week, there are police reports through the media of new-born babies dumped in rubbish bins, river beds, dams, and other despicable places like pit latrines.

Just recently, a lucky newly-born baby girl was recovering in hospital after she was found dumped in grass at Katutura Mix settlement outside Windhoek. And a week before that a newly-born baby stuffed in a schoolbag was found abandoned in 8ste Laan, an informal settlement in Katutura, a high-density suburb in Windhoek while, another one was found dumped in a skip container along the Katutura Monte Christo road also in Windhoek.

Last month, in the northern town of Ondangwa, a young woman died after attempts to induce abortion went terribly wrong. The sad story is that the lady just got a marriage proposal – but got impregnated by another man.

The two women who assisted the deceased are currently in police custody and are said to be in the business of backyard abortions, charging as much as R2,000. Thousands of women, including students, have brush with death after attempting illegal abortions. While in other cases, many women give birth to many children, in most cases from different fathers, that they cannot feed.

Of course women with money travel to South Africa, where abortion is legal. But in our haste to “tradition and religious correctness” we need to consider young women and girls who do not have a way out.

Education of young girls both at school level and university are being jeopardised by early pregnancies. In many cases they are forced to abandon their studies, to go raise a child. Grandmothers in rural communities are overburdened with raising grandkids that were abandoned by their unemployed mothers.

Keep the Abortion and Sterilisation Act of 1975 in our legal system does not help matters.

We are only forcing poor girls and women to take risky decisions and hauling them before the courts will not stop them either.

Let’s just call a spade a spade. Our little sisters and teenage daughters are having sex, but that does not mean they are prepared for the eventualities – which in many cases pregnancies.

Therefore, if she is not ready for a baby – no amount of religious or tradition norms can stop her from taking different types of concoctions to abort the foetus, or to dump the baby.

The same people who are preaching women reproductive health, including our women lawmakers,  are in a way forcing other women to resort to crime – by performing illegal abortions.

April 2017
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