Abortions on the rise in Kenya as Trump cuts Marie Stopes funding

Kibera slum in Nairobi. Photo/REUTERS

In Summary

  • "I couldn't give birth because my husband is not supporting or helping me, so I decided to terminate the pregnancy. I thought that was the best option," a woman named Dija said.
  •   She said it had been a month since taking the abortion pills, and she was still bleeding.
  •   Asked what she will do if the bleeding doesn't stop, Dija said: "I hope it will."

Health workers in Kenya have revealed that the number of backstreet abortions have increased since the United States cut aid to family planning programs.

Ushered in by President Donald Trump’s administration, the Mexico City policy, or global gag rule, was supposed to reduce the number of abortions, but healthcare workers in Kenya say it’s doing the opposite. 

The fund cuts, which left thousands of women in Kenya without affordable access contraceptives have forced many to resort to risky, backstreet abortions.

When the nongovernmental organization Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK) informed Dija, a Kibera resident,  that it no longer had funds to provide her with free contraception she said she was devastated.

The three-month injectable contraceptives she had previously received for free would now cost her $4 (Ksh.400).

Dija told CNN that she had considered getting injections from a local pharmacy, where they sell for about $2 (Ksh.200) to $3(Ksh.300).

However, she claimed they’re often expired, or unsafe, and she couldn’t afford them anyway.

Injectables are the most commonly used form of contraception for women in Africa. Invisible to partners, they reduce the risk of backlash and are easy to use.

Africa already has the lowest percentage of women using birth control, and the highest unmet demand for contraceptives in the world.

And because many African countries rely on US Agency for International Development (USAID) money to fill gaps in women’s health services, the Trump funding cuts are hitting women like Dija particularly hard.

Without access to contraception, Dija became pregnant with her third child last October. 

She went to a backstreet clinic in Kibera and got abortion pills illegally. 

To pay for the pills, which cost about $10(Ksh.1000), Dija had to dip into savings she had made from her work at a women’s group in the slum.

“I couldn’t give birth because my husband is not supporting or helping me, so I decided to terminate the pregnancy. I thought that was the best option,” she said. 

When CNN interviewed Dija in her home, she said it had been a month since taking the abortion pills, and she was still bleeding.

Asked what she will do if the bleeding doesn’t stop, Dija said: “I hope it will.”

Abortion is illegal in Kenya, except for when the life or health of the mother is at risk.

Wilson Bunde, who works with FHOK, said women like Dija, who were coming to the Kibera clinic for free contraceptives, are returning to be treated for botched abortions instead.

Wilson Bunde outside the FHOK clinic in Kibera, where women once received free contraceptives. Photo/CNN

Organizations like Bunde’s are supported by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a global provider of sexual and reproductive health services, which stands to lose up to $100 million in USAID after refusing to sign up to the terms of Trump’s policy. 

The fund cuts meant FHOK stopped offering subsidized contraception in Kibera, closed a clinic and cut a community outreach program.

Without access to that program, Bunde estimated, 36,000 women went without family planning last year.

In Kibera, women are turning to untrained abortion providers as a last resort. 

One practitioner, who asked that CNN not use her real name due to fear of prosecution, said she often treats women who are between six and seven months pregnant.

She performs the procedure with a knitting needle, puncturing the pregnant woman’s amniotic sac, which forces the fetus out of the uterus.

The practitioner, who told CNN that she was a trained midwife, said she sees mostly young schoolgirls and unmarried women. 

She carries out the abortions in her small home. 

On a twin bed covered by a thin clear plastic sheet, sat a bag with surgical gloves, a jar of petroleum jelly, cotton wool, some pain killers and the needle, attached to a long, thin tube, which is used to drain the fluid into a bucket on the floor.

Botched abortions cost Kenya about $6.3 million in 2016, according to a recent report published by Africa Health Population Research in partnership with Kenya’s Ministry Of Health. 

And experts say that number is expected to rise in the wake of Trump’s cuts.

Kibera health worker Elizabeth Wanjiru, says that when she first became involved in family planning outreach programs she had hoped it would bring an end to the backstreet abortions.

Health worker Elizabeth Wanjiru told CNN that women in Kibera are “crying,” asking her for free family planning. Photo/CNN

However, she says that it’s become much more difficult to stop women from turning to backstreet abortions, now that contraceptives are unaffordable for most. “This is why you will find babies aborted, due to lack of access to family planning.”

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