KIRUKU: My body, my choice: Abortion is a basic right


KIRUKU: My body, my choice: Abortion is a basic right

A shocking report released by the Guttmacher Institute in the United States claims that an estimated 405,000 abortions were performed in Tanzania alone in 2013, signaling that the time has come to stop sweeping the issue under the carpet.

The findings of this study, conducted by Guttmacher in collaboration with Tanzania’s National Institute for Medical Research and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, could easily be replicated many times over in each of our partner states. Indeed, the problem is symptomatic of the abortion crisis throughout the developing world.

Polices and legal frameworks have not put an end to abortion, a sign that a new approach is needed to deal with the situation, which continues to destroy the lives and health of millions of women.

Abortion leaves devastating physiological and health complications on the affected women. The high mortality rates among women in developing countries have been partly blamed on risky abortion procedures conducted by quacks masquerading as medical doctors. Health complications arising from infection, excessive bleeding, embolism, ripping or perforation of the uterus, convulsions, hemorrhage, cervical injury, and endotoxic shock have long-term effects on the gynaecological health of the affected women.

Although the immediate complications of abortion are usually treatable, they frequently lead to long-term reproductive damage of a more serious nature.

The effects of abortion are especially severely on rural women and those from slums, who generally have no access to medical facilities and cannot afford medical expenses arising from any complications. During the span of the study in Tanzania, 66,600 women received post-abortion care, while more than 100,000 women who experienced complications did not receive the medical attention they needed.

School-going children in the age bracket of 15-19 as well as college-going young women are the worst hit by the growing menace, meaning the gynaecological health of a whole generation of sexually active women is under threat.

To reduce maternal deaths and those arising from abortion, the society must ask itself hard questions and accept certain realities; these include the fact that young school going children are engaging in sexual activities.

It is unfortunate that religious organisations have never embraced the idea of making contraceptives accessible to school going children. The tough stand that providing school going children will promote immoral behaviour may be doing more harm than good to the young adults.

Even the mere suggestion of introducing sex education into the school syllabus is many times met with tough resistance by these religious groups. While this would have gone a long way in reducing the rising cases of teen pregnancies and consequently abortion cases, the religious groups have always felt that it is inappropriate.

While we all accept that it is prudent for the parents and religious groups to take up the role of guiding the youth, we must accept some basic realities and move with the changing times.

The high rate of technological development and information exchange has led to rapid changes in cultures and habits across the globe. Such cultures may be unacceptable to traditional societies, but they still find their way among the youth. A classic example was the recent much-hyped Project-X even in Nairobi, where a party was being planned for the youth to engage in sex.

The society must rethink the matter of making contraceptives available to the youth. If it is the only way of preventing the high abortion cases across the region, the modalities of implementing this must be worked out.

The region must also enforce laws to protect women from sexual abuse – a good number of abortion cases arise from rape cases. Just recently, a report by the United Nations revealed rampant sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, the latest in a long litany of such reports. Indeed, rape and defilement during war and civil disobedience have come to define most parts of Africa.

It is of paramount importance for program planners and policymakers to work towards meeting the needs of adolescents. Preventing human rights violations such as child marriage, coerced sex and other forms of sexual abuse – which underpin much sexual activity among young women – is also crucial to bringing an end to abortion cases in the region.

Promoting adolescent women’s education and advancing the status of girls and women in society by providing high-quality sex education and contraceptive counselling services to help young women overcome barriers to contraceptive use is key to winning the battle. We must respect and protect the rights of women to voluntary, informed and confidential contraceptive choice.

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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