On the Termination of Pregnancy Bill: Just How Safe is ‘Safe Abortion’?

On abortion

Recently, the Centre for Solutions of Journalism (CSJ)  joined calls on the Tonse Alliance government to look into abortion law reforms and enact the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill.  Among other things, the bill is meant to deal with unsafe abortions among girls and women by allowing them to access such services in public hospitals as opposed to using alternative means that are considered dangerous

According to a statement made by executive director of the organisation, Brian Ligomeka, enacting the bill into law will ensure the safeguarding of human rights especially for women who are the main concern (or victims) in issues of abortion.

Ligomeka pointed out that Malawi's new leader, Lazarus Chakwera, a pastor, should not appeal to religion in handling the issue as Malawi is a secular state and some people who voted for him are not affiliated to any religion. The organisation’s appeal came from a background of a reported increase in unsafe abortions among girls and women revealed by a research carried out in 2015 by the Malawi’s College of Medicine and Guttmacher Institute which indicates that 141,000 girls and women in the country induce abortions every year.

Dr Francis Makiya, secretary general for the Coalition of Prevention for Unsafe Abortion (Copua) also concurred with Ligomeka and noted that unsafe abortions are one of the top five causes of maternal mortality and morbidity in the country.

This is not the first time that the bill has come to the limelight. In 2016, Parliament was also geared to table the bill and see the possibility of recommending it to be enacted into law. The Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) and the Evangelical Association in Malawi (EAM) organised a pro-life march against the move. This, however, brought mixed reactions among different stakeholders in society with some accusing the church bodies of diverting from their spiritual means of achieving goals to secular ones.

Elsewhere in the world, especially in Africa, the issue of legalising abortion has always sparked hot debates.

For instance, in November last year, there was an International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) in Nairobi, Kenya, themed ‘Accelerating the Promise’. The conference aimed to promote sexual health and reproductive rights especially for women and minority groups such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people (LGBTI). It resolved to improve accessibility of health care facilities and services for women which includes access to safe abortion.

As is in the case of the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill of Malawi, this entailed that women should be free to go to health facilities such as hospitals and clinics for abortion services rather than using unsafe means to abort. In the words of Ms Gabriella,President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, “the substance of the debate is about the right of every woman to decide about her own her body.”

But the question that remains complex is, how safe is this so-called safe abortion? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word ‘safe’ as a state of being protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost. It also defines abortion as the intentional and deliberate ending of a pregnancy by removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus before it can survive outside the uterus. This means that the death of the unborn child is not accidental as it may happen in some circumstances.

It is rather well-intended and planned. Now when one looks at the process of abortion itself, it becomes unimaginable that one would call it safe. How can an act that eliminates the life of a human being, in this case the unborn child, be termed safe when the act is a threat to life? Whose safety is protected here?

Some have argued that it is the woman who benefits from safe abortion since it gives her an opportunity to abort under the watchful care of competent professionals such as doctors and nurses. But, as Alveda King argues, “abortion is not health care. A woman has a right to her body, but that is not her body. What about the baby?” Moreover, it must also be noted that quite a number of women have died from complications that have developed from the so-called safe abortions. Does that, then, guarantee the intended safety even on the woman?

Furthermore, those arguing for the adoption of safe abortion are doing so under the guise of promoting sexual rights of women, that is, that a woman should have control over her body. But why should a person be legally allowed to infringe the rights of another in the name of exercising her rights? In this case, why should the right to life of the unborn child be compromised just because the woman wants to enjoy her rights?

As far as the activism for sexual rights for women with regard to safe abortion is concerned, rights are sought without the duty that accompanies it and freedom is pursued without any sense of responsibility. Moreover, if all rights and freedoms were sought from such a perspective, society would be in total anarchy. And so, even if it is worth acknowledging that cases of abortion are diverse, complex and have different motivations, abortion cannot be safe.

The funny thing is that, as the former President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, argues, everybody that is arguing for abortion has already been born. Abortion of any kind has never been and is not safe. This is just common reason and does not appeal to any religion. Therefore, the reasoning that the proposed Pregnancy Termination bill should be enacted to ensure safe abortion for women is flawed and built on a shoddy premise.