There is a new law in preparation that will allow women to exercise their reproductive rights a little better, slightly liberalizing abortion.
It will allow abortion in cases of incest, rape and defilement. These are the worst, but this is only the start. We need to look at the bigger picture, and strategize. Is this a step in the right direction that needs our support? The problem is that it restricts abortion tightly, while it should be allowed on request. And when this is passed into law, it may take a long time before the law is revised to liberalize abortion to the point where women can effectively exercise that reproductive rights fully.
We men need to step back here, this is an issue of women’s bodies, and women need complete self determination. Men have always tried to overpower women’s bodies. Church hierarchies (overwhelmingly men), legislative arm of government (overwhelmingly men) executive arms of government (overwhelmingly men) and rapists and defilers (overwhelmingly men).
From an ethical point of view, it is clear that the current situation is not sustainable: an estimated 70,000 women per year are suffering the abuse of “traditional healers” and such, when they need an abortion. This results in many deaths and lifelong disabilities; it burdens our overburdened health facilities, and takes away from our development. While when performed medically, abortion is a simple and safe operation. It is much safer than pregnancy. But most of all the current situation is an infringement on women’s rights that we can no longer tolerate.
We all want to prevent abortions. Outlawing abortion clearly is not doing the job. The 70,000 cases per year show that a woman who needs an abortion will go to extra ordinary lengths in procuring it, up to life threatening situations. Just imagine how big the need is that women go so far!
So if illegality does not prevent abortions, what can we do? The answer is simple: we need early comprehensive sex education. Countries with school programs that introduce the subject early on have very low abortion rates: these are countries like Denmark. They also happen to have liberal abortion laws, and low teenage pregnancy rates. This goes to show that a ban does not stop abortion, but comprehensive sex education does.
In this day and age of HIV/Aids it is of life saving importance that girls and boys know about sex, condoms and other family planning BEFORE they become sexually active. That can be earlier than most of us adults care to admit. I know several women who had their first child at the age of 12 so to be on the safe side, I propose to have sex education in our schools at 10. And then again at 11 and 12 so the subject is thoroughly understood. We need to show samples of family planning methods, and instructive artwork. Also we need to instruct our youth on what to do in case of sexual harassment and defilement. We need a national sex education program that teaches every citizen of the country all there is to know including family planning and all its methods; radio seems to be the most cost effective option, but also printed materials should be widely available. We need all methods of family planning to be available in all health facilities at all times. Condoms, male and female, IUDs, pills, injectables, implants, spermicides, plan B (morning after pill), and permanent methods: tubal ligation and vasectomy.
Like male condoms, female condoms and contraceptive pills should be widely available in every pharmacy and village shop. We need youth friendly services widely available to prevent teenage pregnancies: it should be easy for teenagers, male and female, to get family planning, with or without parental consent.
All this will prevent abortions from being needed, from happening, and this is effective prevention, contrary to illegality, which only threatens women’s lives, but does not address the issue of abortion.
Abortion must be safe, legal and rare.