When the termination of pregnancy is prohibited, the healers who pierce the wombs of women with sharp objects emerge, sit on the bellies to expel the fetus, and prescribe unsafe concoctions.
Opposition to abortion is so intense that even when women have the legal right to terminate their pregnancy, it can be extremely difficult to access the necessary services. However, worse than that, it is the fact that opponents tend to ignore the shortcomings that lead women to the point where they seek an abortion.
Woman’s personal freedom
From a moral point of view, respect for a woman’s personal freedom and bodily autonomy must be firmly defended, instead of forcing her to put her health or well-being at risk by carrying out an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy. However, considering how riddled with misinformation are the debates often do not lead anywhere, unless, first and foremost, they frame abortion as a health issue.
Consider the case of Kenya. Despite having one of the most progressive abortion laws in Africa, according to which a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy if “there is a need for emergency treatment, or if the life or health of the mother is in danger , or if any other written law allows it, “the imperishable opposition to this intervention has undermined the implementation of the aforementioned law.
Abortion does not end the practice
However, it is well documented that outlawing abortion does not end the practice. On the contrary, when authorities imprison someone who is rumored to practice safe abortions, as in Kenya, women end up using providers who use highly dangerous methods to carry out this task. For example, those who pierce the wombs of women with sharp objects, sit on the bellies to expel the fetus, and prescribe unsafe concoctions.
To avoid the services of these clandestine providers, women try to induce abortions by ingesting large quantities of analgesics or by poisoning themselves with detergents. Some die; others lose their uterus, and still others are dealing with complications, such as cervicovaginal fistulas.
After years of working in reproductive health, I can say with authority that women do not interrupt pregnancies out of pure whim. They do not pay an unqualified person to stab their uterus because they go through a passing mood. Condemning them will not change their minds; Nor will it prioritize the development of a fetus over the needs, rights and welfare of its mother. All that will be achieved is to increase the likelihood that they will put their health and lives at risk by going in search of an unsafe abortion.
If we want to reduce the demand for abortion services, we must recognize that this demand is often the culmination of a series of systemic failures that begin during childhood, when an Integral Sexual Education (ESI) is required. An ESI teaches young people in a way appropriate to their age, which is culturally acceptable, realistic, unbiased, and scientifically accurate; and, in addition, it can increase the use of contraceptives and reduce teen pregnancy rates, especially if a gender approach is adopted, focused on training young women so that they protect their own health.
To avoid the services of clandestine providers, women try to induce abortions by ingesting analgesics or detergents. Some die; others lose their wombs
Such education is not a privilege, it is a right. In Kenya, Article 35 of the Constitution guarantees all citizens “the right of access to information held by another person that is necessary for the exercise or protection of any fundamental right or freedom”. This includes reproductive health care, enshrined in article 43.
But often it is not respected, due to the moralizing resistance of religious leaders and movements against the right to choose, as well as other factors, such as the scarce diffusion of the curriculum and the scarcity of adequately trained teachers. As a result, myths and misconceptions continue to generalize.
This, together with the lack of funding and cultural factors (such as the lack of male participation in reproductive health issues), contributes to low contraceptive use, since only 58% of women in Kenya use them. As expected, teenage pregnancy is at unacceptably high levels.
It is time to address the shortcomings that lead to girls and women ending up crippled or dead. At this point, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: it should include the intentional prevention of pregnancies in health budgets, a quality ESI in schools should be provided, and friendly reproductive health services should be provided for Young.
But healing must also be an option. The rules that punish women must be replaced by modern laws – in line with international human rights frameworks – that protect women’s reproductive freedom, and even guarantee access to safe abortion services. Written guidelines are also needed to end the victimization carried out by abortion service providers.
How can a government that does not guarantee an ESI or that does not invest adequately in family planning penalize their women for unwanted pregnancies? How can a society that ignores the suffering of women blame the victims for their own inaction? Those who do nothing to prevent unwanted pregnancies – and do everything in favor of punishing women affected by such pregnancies – can not boast of having moral authority.