Abortion Law and Policy Reform News - Angola,
Kenya, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay
and a Poem from Ireland for World Poetry Day
Zenaida Machado @zenaidamz Protest against bill in Angola parliament calling for 10-year prison sentence for abortion
It was reported on 17 March that Angola's Parliament was scheduled to vote on a proposal to criminalise all abortions and imprison women who have abortions and people who perform them for up to 10 years. The change is part of wider reforms to the country's criminal code, which dates back to 1886. The proposed revision allows no legal exceptions. The government had proposed amendments permitting abortion in cases of rape and if the woman's health is in danger, but the parliament rejected these amendments. The current criminal code already outlawed all abortions but the punishment in the proposed revision is more harsh.
On 18 March, about 200 demonstrators protested against the bill under heavy police surveillance in the Angolan capital, Luanda. The protest was coordinated by the groupOndjango Feminista – see their gallery of photos here. Watch a short BBC News Africa video of the march here. The mostly women protesters chanted "Freedom for women," "Prison will not solve anything" and "Let us decide", and carried posters that said "Your decide, your life" before dispersing after about two hours. "The government or lawmakers have no right to decide whether we must have a child or not," Lauranda Gouveia, a marcher, told AFP. "If this law is passed, women who get pregnant after rape will have the choice of trauma, prison or possible death after a clandestine abortion," Sizaltia Cutaia, of the local Open Society activism group, said...
The vote had been scheduled for 23 March, but the ruling MPLA party said the vote had been postponed...
Nairobi county Woman dies after unsafe abortion in Nairobi county clinic: a daily story
On 14 March 2017, we reported the death of a 16-year-old girl from an unsafe abortion. On 16 March, the proprietor of a clinic in Kayole, Nairobi County, was arrested after a woman died in his clinic, the Faith Medical Clinic. She is alleged to have gone there the evening of 14 March, to terminate a pregnancy. She was found lying dead on one of the clinic’s benches the next morning. She was 30 years old and the mother of four children.
Her sister reported what had happened to their father, who went to the police, who then went to the clinic to investigate. They arrested the man in charge of the clinic and took her body away. There were angry members of the public gathered outside, who were said to have threatened to burn the clinic and lynch the man in charge. Police are investigating the circumstances, saying it was still uncertain what time she had died.
This incident comes only months after the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA) tabled a petition to the government in the Kenyan Supreme Court to put in place a policy for safe abortion in Kenya, arguing that many young girls and women are having unsafe abortions.
PHOTO by Simon Blackley/Flickr To have the same right to abortion in Belgium as in France, is that too much to ask?
A sudden rush of media stories in February and March has announced a campaign in Belgium that is variously calling variously for modernisation of the abortion law, decriminalisation of abortion, and complete removal of abortion from the Penal Code, insisting that there is a strong majority in support in the country. The necessity for Belgian women to travel to other countries in Europe for second trimester abortion is especially condemned.
L’avortement n’a pas sa place dans le Code pénal. Il s’agit d’une intervention médicale, et non d’un délit. Un fœtus n’est pas un enfant, mais une combinaison de cellules. Quant à la femme, c’est un être humain avec une vie et un corps. Et un droit à l’autodétermination. En ne dépénalisant pas l’avortement, le message que fait passer le législateur est qu’on ne peut pas faire confiance aux femmes lorsqu’il s’agit de décider ce qui est mieux pour elles-mêmes ou pour la société et que leurs actes doivent par conséquent être régis par une loi. (Abortion has no place in the Penal Code. It is a medical intervention, and not a crime. A fetus is not an infant but a collection of cells. Whereas a women is a human being with a life and a body. And the right to self-determination. In not decriminalising abortion, the message that the legislature gives is that they do not trust women to decide what is best for themselves or for the society and that their actions must therefore be regulated by the law.)
En Belgique aussi, la société civile se mobilise pour le droit des femmes à décider. 46 ans après le «Manifeste des 343» en France, le Collectif belge des 350* publie son propre manifeste. (A website asks "Why keep abortion in the Penal Code?" and says: In Belgium, too, civil society is mobilising for the right of women to decide. 46 years after the "Manifesto of the 343" in France, the Belgian Collective of the 350 publishes its own manifesto.)
The website of the Manifesto of the 350 has a whole page of signatures and a whole page of news articles on the issues, starting from 2015 but many of them in 2017, as the campaign seems to be growing...
Queensland: Opposition MPs block two related bills introducing abortion law reform
Queensland's Liberal National Party decided unanimously not to support the second of a pair of bills reforming abortion law in the state, according to its leader. The two bills, introduced by independent MP Rob Pyne, sought to reform the criminal code to remove abortion as an offence. However, concerns had been raised that if only one of the two bills was passed, it could leave women and their doctors in legal limbo.
Northern Territory: a bill tabled in February is expected to be passed in March
In the Northern Territory, women in remote areas have to travel hundreds of kilometres at great expense to Darwin or Alice Springs to access abortion care and if they are over 14 weeks' pregnant, they must also be examined by two doctors, including a specialist obstetrician-gynaecologist.
The bill under consideration would allow use of medical abortion pills at home up to nine weeks of pregnancy, following approval from a doctor. Abortions could also be performed in day surgeries and specialist clinics and qualified doctors other than specialists could provide the service. However, abortions after 23 weeks would still only be legal if it is necessary to save the woman's life. Doctors who conscientiously object would be required to refer women to another doctor. The reforms also include safe access zones around abortion clinics so patients are not harassed by protesters.
The bill is expected to pass in March and come into effect by July.
NZ Abortion Supervisory Committee reports Abortion law outdated, official committee says, and many members of parliament agree, but no one is moving to change it before the next election
The New Zealand Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC), which is appointed by and reports to the NZ government, made its annual presentation to Parliament's justice and electoral committee on 16 March 2017.
Dame Linda Holloway, ASC chairwoman, told the committee that the outdated wording of the law was causing "enormous administrative problems'' for the ASC and health practitioners. "The law was not written in inclusive language. In fact, some parts of the language are actually quite offensive, referring to people as subnormal, for example. Really it is an indictment that we have statute like that on the books that is not being corrected." Health and how hospitals are run in NZ had changed substantially since the law was passed in 1977, Dame Linda told the committee. For example, it refers to the "operating doctor" yet now, many women have medically induced abortions with no operating doctor.
The legal counsel to the ASC said they had often been sued by anti-abortion groups; apart from an 18-month period, the ASC had been involved in such litigation since 2004. While the cases were eventually won, the outdated wording in the legislation had left the door open to expensive and time-consuming legal challenges by those wishing to retain the medical circumstances prevailing in the 1970s, which had tied up the Committee's time and resources.
Abortion is legal in NZ only if two consultants agree that the pregnancy would seriously harm the woman's mental or physical health or that the fetus would have a serious disability. In fact, 97% of abortions are recorded as being on grounds of mental health.
The report sparked political debate, with Labour, the Green Party and ACT Party all calling for the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, passed in 1977, to be updated. The ACT leader said: "Nobody believes that 97% of women who have abortions are mentally ill, but that is what we are expected to believe according to official statistics." The right thing to do is reform the law to reflect what actually happens: women exercise choice for their own reasons…"
Attempt to stop a legal abortion not yet fully resolved
On 3 March 2017, we reported on a court case in Uruguay in which a woman was denied a completely legal abortion by a judge who sided with her former partner by ruling that her reasons were not acceptable. Her lawyer moved to appeal the ruling, but before the appeal could be heard, the woman miscarried due to the the stress, mistreatment and public exposure she was suffering.
Organizations such as Mujer y Salud en Uruguay (MYSU) reacted immediately to the situation, and within a few hours of learning the details, they alerted the media and got the news into the front pages, which got national and international attention. This is a list of some 50 media reports that appeared in the news and on TV and radio: Aborto en Mercedes: MYSU como fuente clave para los medios – MYSU was the main source for most of them.
MYSU believes this was a new attempt to criminalise women's reproductive decisions. They plan to investigate whether the allegations against the woman were sponsored or supported by anti-abortion groups. They have also called on the State to compensate the woman, who for three weeks was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, stress, anguish and public scorn.
Since then, on 10 March, the Court of Appeal annulled the initial charge against her. She is still considering legal action against the judge who ruled against her for damages from the experience of the previous three weeks. However, she is now facinga criminal complaintby the ex-partner, which he apparently announced to the media, though she had not been officially notified herself at this writing...