Abortion cannot be wished away!

Abortion cannot be wished away!

Date: January 1, 1970
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Abortion is still a hush-hush issue in Kenya. But despite laws, which restrict the termination of pregnancy, illegal abortion continues in this East African nation unabated.

Abortion is still a hush-hush issue in Kenya. But despite laws, which restrict the termination of pregnancy, illegal abortion continues in this East African nation unabated.

There are no easy answers to this emotive issue. On the one side, there are those who argue for the woman’s right to choose to have a baby or not, while others, using religion as the base, argue for the rights of the fetus.

The Kenyan government once again is struggling with the abortion issue as the country prepares to host on June 23-25, the Africa Regional meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). The country’s preparatory report on progress to date since the Cairo conference will probably remain mute on abortion, and once again, the reality of what is happening on the ground will be hidden.

A major failure of Kenya’s population policies in the past 10 years have been their inability to reach the most vulnerable groups, who are in need of good reproductive health care and information. Young women and men appear to be completely out of the country’s population policy and reproductive health services loop.

One answer that is put forth to encourage young women who find themselves pregnant not to abort is to consider the option of adoption. One doctor confirmed, “Those who agree to carry the pregnancy to term do so on the assurance that their babies will be adopted at the time of birth, and the burden of raising the child is taken up by someone else.” But this is not the key to the testy abortion issue and it will not make illegal abortions go away.

Another option offered is to provide young teenage mothers with the means to take care of themselves and their infants as a way to stem illegal abortion. In Britain, for example, young teenage mothers are given a monthly stipend and a municipal house. It is clear that the ailing Kenyan economy could not support such an initiative.

What is needed is more proactive reproductive health care services and information for youth, which reach throughout the country. There are still gaps in information of the use of contraceptives for youth, and often it is found that young people seek out information from their peers, which leads them to make risky and uninformed choices.

Recently the Kenyan press sensationalized, even using pictures, the death of 15 fetuses apparently due to illegal abortions. The public shrieked and public condemnation of abortion was rife. But this response will not discourage the young women, who saw no other choice open to them, from repeating the act again.

The blame for abortion also is solely heaped upon the women or young girls alone. We forget that there are parents too who help their daughters to procure an abortion, or the male partners too may encourage, finance or help women and young girls to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. And there are doctors willing to provide the service.

For now Kenyans need to bring this issue out of the closet and discuss it unemotionally. We have to recognize that as long as there are women and girls, as well as men and boys, who demand the service, there will be doctors and others who will perform abortions, sometimes in circumstances which put women’s and girl’s lives at risk, or which may leave them permanently scarred physically and emotionally for life. Wishing abortion away will not make it happen.

Arthur Okwemba is a Kenyan journalist with the African Woman and Child Feature and Information Service, based in Nairobi.This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events.

janine@genderlinks.org.za for more information. 


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