Abortion Law and Policy News
25 April 2016


Sierra Leone Safe Abortion Act blocked by President Bai Koroma again

In mid-March 2016, Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma again refused to sign the law legalising abortion, saying it should be put to a referendum. It was unanimously passed by MPs in December, but President Koroma refused to sign it after protests by religious leaders. Apparently, he expressed concern that the law went further than the Maputo Protocol. After consultations, the Parliament voted in support of the law unanimously and returned it to him in February 2016, unaltered for his signature.
The new law allows women to terminate a pregnancy on request up to 12 weeks and in cases of incest, rape and fetal impairment up to 24 weeks. Abortion was previously illegal in Sierra Leone under any circumstances.
The BBC's Umaru Fofana in Freetown says the abortion issue has led to heated debates and protests on both sides.
President Koroma has now referred the law to the Constitutional Review Committee, which is currently reviewing the Constitution. The BBC's correspondent says the Committee will decide whether to include the abortion law in its recommended changes to the Constitution, which will be put to a referendum.
Under Sierra Leone's current Constitution, the President cannot veto a bill which has received at least a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The Speaker of the House could sign the Safe Abortion Act into law instead, but the BBC correspondent says he is highly unlikely to do so as he comes from the President's party.
BBC News Africa
Tags: Sierra Leone, law and policy, Constitutional crisis


To legalise abortion or improve access to contraceptives?? 

Recent reports that illegal abortions are on the rise in Zimbabwe have apparently sparked debate on the question of whether the country should "go the South African way" and legalise abortion or increase access to contraception, as if this were an either–or choice.
A Harare preacher argued that "if boys and girls abstained from sex before marriage and married couples stayed faithful, abortion would never be a subject of contention".
In response, a traditional healer from Harare said a woman should be granted the right to choose. “I have assisted many women, some of them wives of big people. I do not see the problem here. We traditional healers are constantly harassed but we know there are (conventional) clinics that do the same,” she said.
Abortion is only legal in Zimbabwe under Section 4 of the Termination of Pregnancy Act to save the life of the woman or protect her physical health, or where there is a risk that the child to be born will suffer from physical or mental defects of such a nature that it will be permanently or seriously handicapped, or on grounds of rape or incest. It must take place in a designated institution and approval of two doctors is needed unless it is an emergency.
Illegal abortions are tried under the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, which states that: “Any person who intentionally terminates a pregnancy or terminates a pregnancy by conduct, which he or she realises involves a real risk or possibility of terminating the pregnancy shall be guilty of unlawful termination of pregnancy and liable to a fine not exceeding level 10 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or both.”
In an articulate argument for women's right to decide on abortion in October 2015, Aneau Chigariro said: "Let us face the facts: in Zimbabwe, over 70 000 illegal and unsafe abortions take place each year according to a 2005 UNICEF report. Post-abortion complications remain one of the major causes of death among women of child bearing age in Zimbabwe. There are women who want the procedure enough to risk their lives to get it. Justice is ensuring that these lives that already exist are given their full rights and protection. These people are more important than a fetus whose personhood is yet to be realised. 
"I believe that being pro-choice is actually being pro-life; that is, pro- the life of the woman who knows she cannot sustain another life and chooses to spare this life from coming into existence and pro- the humane end of that fetus’ life. Maternal mortality in Zimbabwe sits at a high of between 470 to 520.7 per 100 000 live births and infant mortality is even worse at 57 per 1000 births and under-5's at 84 per 1000 births (2010/2011 survey). A child born into a family that is ill-equipped to rear it will die before it even reaches the age of 5 because of disease, malnourishment, and more commonly in Zimbabwe neglect and abandonment…
"Within this comprehensive system, abortion must be present as an option for women who have failed to prevent conception. This allows the public health system to provide women with options and pre-abortion counselling and post-abortion care should they decide to go through with an abortion, as one of the options presented to them. 
"This is a far better process than for the public health system to encounter women who are coming for post-abortion care after a botched abortion which may end their lives or leave them with physical and or mental damage. These women present a larger burden to our public health system than the perceived burden of providing abortion on demand…"
And in April 2016, Se_x workers called on the Zimbabwe Government to legalise abortion in the wake of unbridled backyard terminations that continue to claim lives. Speaking during a Global AIDS Progress Report and post-ICASA meeting, Se_x worker representative, Sibonile Kavhaza, said she has had colleagues who have died after failed backyard abortions "because they will be out of business if they keep the baby. I know of people who have died after attempting to abort and it’s a fact that backyard abortions are rampant". She said there is an unmet need for contraception among sex workers and unprotected sex was also rampant, especially with regular clients.
NewsDay Zimbabwe, UN Population Division, Povo and News in Zimbabwe
Tags: Zimbabwe, law and policy, contraception and unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion, sex workers


TAWLA calls for information dissemination on abortion 

In March 2016, the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) called on health stakeholders, including journalists, to disseminate information on reproductive health rights and unsafe abortion in order to save women’s lives in the country. Speaking during a two-day training for journalists, Advocate Bernadette Mkandya said that the objective of the training was to empower journalists so that they can articulate messages that can change the mindset of women to know the effects of having an abortion at a place which is not recommended.
A senior nurse, Yasinta Mtakyawa, complained that statistics about unsafe abortions in Tanzania are limited by the lack of openness because termination of pregnancy is illegal. However, a hospital-based study reports that induced abortion among admitted patients due to incomplete abortion ranged from 14-60%. It is further estimated that 14% of all pregnancies end in induced abortion, almost all being unsafe, therefore it was concluded that induced abortion is a major public health problem in Tanzania. It was estimated that unsafe abortion was responsible for 15% of all maternal deaths in one district in Dar es Salaam and maternal complications associated with unsafe abortion were reported to be up to 60% of the cases admitted to the ward. The majority of the patients reported to have had an unsafe abortion were unmarried and unemployed adolescents, whose pregnancies were unintended.
Tanzania Daily News
Tags: Tanzania, unsafe abortion, law and policy, abortion information, media


Special Rapporteur, Juan Méndez: UN Photo

Harsh abortion laws are torture 

In the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment presented to the Human Rights Council's 31st session (Agenda item 3 , A/HRC/31/57, page 12, January 2016) the following paragraphs on unsafe abortion were included:
"Access to abortion and related care
43. Unsafe abortion is the third leading cause of maternal death globally. Where access to abortion is restricted by law, maternal mortality increases as women are forced to undergo clandestine abortions in unsafe and unhygienic conditions. Short- and long-term physical and psychological consequences also arise due to unsafe abortions and when women are forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will (A/66/254). Such restrictive policies disproportionately impact marginalized and disadvantaged women and girls. Highly restrictive abortion laws that prohibit abortions even in cases of incest, rape or fetal impairment or to safeguard the life or health of the woman violate women’s right to be free from torture and ill-treatment (A/HRC/22/53, CEDAW/C/OP.8/PHL/1). Nevertheless, some States continue to restrict women’s right to safe and legal abortion services with absolute bans on abortions. Restrictive access to voluntary abortion results in the unnecessary deaths of women (CAT/C/PER/CO/4).
44. In other cases, women and girls face significant difficulties in accessing legal abortion services due to administrative and bureaucratic hurdles, refusal on the part of health care workers to adhere to medical protocols that guarantee legal rights, negative attitudes, official incompetence or disinterest (A/HRC/22/53). The denial of safe abortions and subjecting women and girls to humiliating and judgmental attitudes in such contexts of extreme vulnerability and where timely health care is essential amount to torture or ill-treatment. States have an affirmative obligation to reform restrictive abortion legislation that perpetuates torture and ill-treatment by denying women safe access and care. Limited and conditional access to abortion-related care, especially where this care is withheld for the impermissible purpose of punishing or eliciting a confession, remains of concern (A/HRC/22/53). The practice of extracting, for prosecution purposes, confessions from women seeking emergency medical care as a result of illegal abortion in particular amounts to torture or ill-treatment."

Special Rapporteur, Juan Méndez, called on all nations to decriminalize abortion and to ensure access to safe and legal abortion, at least in circumstances of rape, incest, severe fetal impairment, and when the woman's life, physical or mental health are at risk. He said abortion restrictions can amount to torture because they compel women to seek unsafe abortions, which are the third leading cause of maternal deaths around the globe. "Where access to abortion is restricted by law, maternal mortality increases as women are forced to undergo clandestine abortions in unsafe and unhygienic conditions," he said in the report. "Short- and long-term physical and psychological consequences can also arise due to unsafe abortions and when women are forced to carry pregnancies against their will."  SOURCE:
Huffington Post
Tags: Special Rapporteur on Torture, unsafe abortion, law and policy

Claire Bailey


Green Party proposes prosecuting Northern Irish men under the abortion law for 'reckless conception'
Deputy leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland Clare Bailey has suggested that men should be prosecuted under Northern Ireland’s abortion ban if their female partner has an abortion. This suggestion arises following the recent prosecutions in Northern Ireland of women who have had abortions using medical abortion pills. She said that if elected to the NI parliament on 5 May, she will propose legislation for men to also be prosecuted for a new criminal offence of “reckless conception”.
This would mean that every time a woman faces prosecution or is prosecuted, the man can be charged and face the same penalty. The law would embed the notion that men are: (1) also responsible for unwanted pregnancies and (2) will be held as liable for their reproductive choices or lack of them as women are and that the law would be in the interests of equality.
Although she was accused of trivialising the issue, a spokesperson for the Green Party pointed to the inaction on the part of five Executive political parties on this issue and said the proposal was an attempt to highlight the use of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 against women, an archaic law that should be dropped.
Belfast Newsletter and The Independent

Charges against men giving women medical abortion pills without their consent

On 18 April 2016 it was reported that one of the charges against a man in Northern Ireland – giving a woman "a drug" to procure an abortion – was dropped at a preliminary court hearing, while other charges of violence and threats against her would still be tried. The newspaper reports do not explain why the charge was dropped. See:
Abortion drug charge dropped
However, the issue of men giving women medical abortion pills without their knowledge or consent has arisen in other cases too. Two cases have been reported in England, for example. In one of those two cases, a consultant physician gave medical abortion pills to his then sexual partner who had become pregnant and refused to have an abortion. The pregnancy was not terminated. The physician was sentenced to six years in prison under the 1861 Offences against the Person Act for "attempting/administering drugs, poison or other noxious thing to procure an abortion". In a second case in 2013, a man was convicted of "conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm and administering a drug to procure an abortion". He was sentences to ten years = 8 years for GBH + 2 years for administering the drugs. See:
One or two such cases have been reported in
Singapore, Australia and the USA as well. It would appear that other forms of violence against the woman are involved in at least some of these cases. The absence of willingness or consent on the woman’s part to have an abortion, and hence the violation of her bodily autonomy, should be seen as a new form of violence against women.
Tags: United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, law and policy, medical abortion, prosecution of men

Canberra, Australia protest Photo: Graham Tidy

Canberra's Polish community condemns Poland's abortion ban
Canberra's Polish community held a protest on 17 April to denounce a "draconian" proposal to ban abortions and restrict the morning-after pill and in vitro fertilisation in Poland. Polish-born Dana Olejniczak, who left Lodz and emigrated to Canberra in 1987, said it was unthinkable a collection of signatures tabled in a citizen's bill could give way for such a wholesale dismantling of women's rights in a central European nation. Shocked by the thought this change may go ahead without challenge, she organised a peaceful protest to be held outside the Polish Embassy. "This is not about being against the church, we are all Catholic and go to church," she said. "We are standing up to say this law would traumatise Polish women." 
Canberra Times

EPF publishes open letter to Polish Speaker of Parliament
The European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF) has published an open letter to the Speaker of the Polish Parliament voicing deep concerns over a draft law that would introduce a complete ban on abortion. A copy of the letter has also been sent directly to the Speaker, Hon. Marek Kuchciński. The letter states that: 
“Academic studies, UN Reports, the World Health Organisation as well as country examples have on numerous occasions proved that legal barriers to abortion services do not decrease the rate of abortion, but increase the risk of maternal mortality… It is proven that the rate of abortions can only be reduced by improving the access to contraceptives, providing comprehensive information on family planning, and introducing better policies reconciling family and work.”
Considering this, the Parliamentarians call on the Honourable Kuchciński to:
1. To reject the initiative introducing a complete ban from being registered to collect signatures,
2. To abandon the plans to end state funding for in-vitro fertilization (IVF),
3. To abandon plans for a prescription requirement for emergency contraceptive pills.

Written statement by parliamentarians of the Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe
The undersigned Parliamentarians wish to express their concerns about the current developments in reproductive health and rights of women in Poland. An initiative has been taken by an anti-abortion organization to introduce a complete ban on abortion and creating the concept of "prenatal murder". In addition, it proposes to replace the term "human fetus" by that of "child conceived"…
Poland already has among the strictest legislation concerning access to abortion... It is well known that legal obstacles to abortion do not reduce the rate of abortions, but increase the risk of maternal mortality due to clandestine abortions practised in unsafe conditions. It is proven that the rate of abortions can only decrease if access to contraception is improved, providing complete information on family planning and introducing better policies reconciling family life and professional life.
We therefore call on all parliamentarians to oppose these initiatives and to protect the rights of women in Poland.
Santé reproductive et droits des femmes en Pologne (en français), 20 avril 2016

Poland: street art protesting abortion law: Photo: Br1art Flickr
Tags: Poland, law and policy, solidarity
Editor: Marge Berer

Copyright © 2016 International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion, All rights reserved.