Friday, August 22, 2008

Pro-abortion law opposed

A pregnant woman. Fida is insisting that it is proposing the new law with the interest of women who find themselves carrying unwanted pregnancies. Photo/FILE  

By SAMWEL KUMBA and DANIEL WESANGULA

Health experts and religious leaders have rejected a proposed abortion law that will make it easier to terminate pregnancy.

The Bill, which has been drafted by the Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida) in conjunction with the Coalition On Violence Against Women (COVAW), seeks to provide for the recognition of the right of women to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and the right to make decisions regarding reproduction without discrimination.

Health experts argue that, if passed, the law would encourage the termination of lives at the pleasure of expectant mothers.

The proposed draft of the Reproductive Health and Rights Bill 2008, becomes the latest voice in the war between conservative Kenyans and the more liberal-minded ones concerning the issue of abortion, which was contentious in the failed constitutional review process of 2005.

Fida and COVAW propose, for instance, that a statement by a pregnant woman to the medical practitioner or any other proof that her pregnancy is as a result of sexual assault, rape, defilement or incest is adequate to guarantee legal abortion.

So far, the Catholic and the Methodist churches as well as the Muslims have stated their stand and maintain that they are strongly opposed to the proposed law.

But former nominated MP Njoki Ndung’u condemns the religious organisations for trying to force their doctrines on the public.

“Religion, just like abortion, is an individual’s choice which they should let women make,” she said.

Chief Kadhi Sheikh Hammad Kassim says that in Islam, a pregnancy of more than 120 days should not be terminated.

“In case such a pregnancy is aborted, that amounts to murder. Based on this law, we are, therefore, opposed to such blanket proposals,” said Sheikh Kassim.

Dr Stephen Kanyaru M’Impwii, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, expresses fears that the law would set a bad precedent.

“In fact, some of us do not know who our fathers are. Even sons or daughters of criminals end up being very good people. The unborn have no sins,” said Bishop Kanyaru.

He, however, quickly adds that his position should not be misconstrued to mean that he supports such voices as rape and incest.

Sheikh Kassim said children conceived as a result of rape have no sin unto themselves and, therefore, should not be murdered.
Bishop Kanyaru appeals to MPs to reject the Bill if and when it is brought to Parliament.

John Cardinal Njue too warns Parliament against allowing introduction of laws that may encourage abortion, saying that the Catholic Church was concerned over such persistent plans.

Cardinal Njue is in record telling President Kibaki, Cabinet ministers and MPs to oppose abortion as a social evil.

And President Kibaki, a staunch Catholic, was quick to assure the religious leaders that the Government harbours no plans to legalise abortion.

The Head of State gave an assurance that majority of the lawmakers are pro-life and thus sensitive to the consequences of such legislation.

Ministers Mutula Kilonzo and Charity Ngilu and MPs Kiema Kilonzo (Mutito) and Charles Nyamai (Kitui west) believe that abortion will only be allowed in cases where it is an option to protect the life of the mother.

Moral issue

“MPs have no plans to pass a law that will encourage abortion,” says the Nairobi Metropolitan minister.

Water minister Charity Ngilu believes that fighting such social evils like abortion requires cooperation between the Government and the Church.

Although abortion is perceived by many as a moral issue, Fida insists that they propose the Bill with the interest of women who find themselves carrying unwanted pregnancies.

“As Fida, we know that this is an emotive issue. To us, this Bill has nothing to do with good or bad. It is meant to uphold the right of women in making logical choices in life,” said Fida chief executive Ms Patricia Nyaundi.

Ms Ndung’u believes that abortion is more of a health issue.

“It is not a matter of giving women the permission to decide whether to abort or not, it is about legalising abortion to improve their physical and mental health,” she said.

Hypocritical

She further said that those opposing the legalisation of safe abortions are hypocritical and should stop reacting as if they are living in a different world.

According to Fida, passing the Bill will reduce the number of abortion-related deaths occurring in Kenya since women will be able to procure safer abortions under medical supervision.

But Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale cautions that the Bill will not see the light of day.

Dr Khalwale, a gynaecologist by profession, says that the 10th Parliament is not as ‘immoral’ as to be blackmailed into legislating laws that do not add value to the lives of Kenyans.

He trivialised the move, saying that Fida only wants to justify the funding it gets from donors.

Additional reporting by Kitavi Mutua

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