The main reason Reproductive Healthcare Bill, 2019, which Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika sponsored, caused furore and is not concluded eight months after it was published by the Senate is that it would push the boundaries of abortion well beyond what we already have.
No wonder, it’s not only the usual suspects — Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) — who have strongly opposed it, but also other faiths, making it an inter-religious and ecumenical concern. The opposition is not driven by prudishness that the clergy have been accused of in handling matters sex. It’s actually because the bill is, in some clauses, unconstitutional, the reason why debate is on hold.
We cannot discuss induced abortion — a key plank of the bill — without addressing the vital question of when life begins. The Constitution, in Article 26.1-3, is crystal-clear that “Every person has the right to life” and that “The life of a person begins at conception” and finally that “A person shall not be deprived of life intentionally.” But the bill defines pregnancy as “presence of a foetus in the womb”.
The fact is that the foetal stage begins eight weeks after conception, meaning the bill offends the Constitution.
It’s also against the rights of the child, who is entitled to legal protection “before as well as after birth” in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Kenya ratified the convention in 1990 before embarking on the long journey to the Children Act, which came into force in 2002.
But perhaps an aspect of the Kihika Bill that should worry all Kenyans of good will — especially people living with disabilities, who have contributed immensely to this nation in all spheres of life — is to be found in Part V, on termination of pregnancy.
Section 26(c) of the bill proposes abortion where “there exists a substantial risk that the foetus would suffer from a severe physical or mental abnormality that is incompatible with life outside the womb”.
Really? The bill dangerously borders on a eugenics mentality, which seeks to let live only people with characteristics regarded as desirable.
My nature of work — and my calling as a parent and a grandparent — has exposed me to phenomenal people with disability. They wouldn’t have lived to see the light of day had they been conceived after enactment of this bill. Besides, the bill does not even define the term “incompatible with life”.
In the ‘developed’ countries, where similar bills have been enacted but parents refused to terminate their ‘imperfect’ unborn babies’ lives, the children have ended up perfectly normal. And even where this was not so, the children have brought out the best in their parents as they strove to nurture the minors to maturity.
We’re hurtling down the road of discrimination. Suffice it to state that Supreme Court Judge Isaac Lenaola and a medical geneticist, Prof Marion Mutugi, tackle eugenics in Bioethics of Medical Advances and Genetic Manipulation: Legal, Philosophical and Moral Perspectives. The book makes compelling reading by senators before they say “aye” to the bill.
Sadly, and this newspaper has published that, many unpopular bills are enacted not because they’re good for the people, but that legislators were bought by their sponsors for less-than-noble reasons. Shall we exchange our progeny for a bowl of soup?
Ms Kweyu is a consultant revise editor with the ‘Daily Nation’. [email protected]