By Zoe Alsop
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Church leaders in Kenya are opposing a provision in a draft of a national constitution that includes emergency exceptions to the country's abortion ban. A recent study links the ban to the deaths of at least hundreds of women a year.
NAIROBI, Kenya (WOMENSENEWS)--Earlier this month church leaders here threatened to mobilize their faithful against a draft of a national constitution if it included language allowing abortions under any circumstance.
"We insist that the constitution must protect all human life, which begins at conception and ends at natural death," said Peter Karanja in a press statement. Karanja is secretary general of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, a powerful political player in this deeply religious country, which includes 24 Christian denominations.
Kenya currently outlaws abortion unless three doctors certify that the pregnancy puts a woman's life in immediate danger.
In a sign of official acknowledgement of the widespread use of illegal abortions, however, post-abortion care is legal and available in hospitals.
In February, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, a Catholic, assured church leaders that Parliament would not pass the draft constitution, which is meant to be enacted within the next two years, if it includes any abortion exceptions.
"Most of us in Parliament have made up our minds and we are ready to persuade those who think otherwise," Kibaki said during a bishop's ordination ceremony. "Otherwise we will reject their attempts."
A committee of experts charged with drafting the constitution had placed a provision allowing for abortions under certain emergencies in order to comply with international treaties on human rights that Kenya has signed. The provision would permit abortion if a pregnancy brought danger to life or health of the mother. Such phrasing could be interpreted to allow for the termination of pregnancies that pose both physical risks as well as psychological ones, such as when a woman has been raped.
A new constitution is being drafted as part of a deal that brought an end to violence in the wake of the 2007 elections, which left more than 1,000 Kenyans dead. Political factions here agreed to enact a new constitution before the next round of elections in 2012 in the hopes that curbing presidential powers would decrease corruption and avert further bloodshed.
While the abortion-related language in the draft varies little from what is currently allowed under Kenya's penal code, its inclusion in the constitution would make the imposition of a complete ban all but impossible and would open the door for more lenient legislation in the future, says a women's advocacy lawyer closely following the matter.
Kenya's Parliament is currently debating the draft of the constitution, including whether to leave the abortion-related provision, which is to be decided upon by the end of this year when Kenyans vote to accept or reject.
The criminalization of abortion in Kenya, combined with the stigma and shortage of legal post-abortion care, leads to the deaths of hundreds or possibly thousands of women each year due to complications of unsafe abortions, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights said in a report this month.
"These deaths are a direct consequence of Kenya's abortion law, one of the most restrictive in the world," the report's authors wrote.
Kenyan women portrayed by the report described how they or their relatives or friends suffered illegal abortions from people who accepted small fees in exchange for procedures that used knitting needles, pipes, pens, bleach and malaria pills.
Unable or afraid to seek emergency care in public clinics, many women who undertake such illegal abortions die.
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