Mixed reactions as legislation on abortion goes to Senate
Following the approval of the draft penal code by the Chamber of Deputies, last Wednesday, the section on abortion, which is part of the legislation, has triggered debate.
In the draft penal code, article 165 absolves criminal liability for a woman who aborts her pregnancy and a medical doctor who helps a woman to abort provided that four particular conditions are met.
The conditions include; when a woman is pregnant as a result of rape, forced marriage, incest in the second degree and when continuation of pregnancy jeopardises the health of the unborn baby or that of the pregnant woman.
The current penal code only allows for abortion when pregnancy puts to risk the health of the mother.
Whereas some argue that even this one exception should have been repealed under the new law to protect the life of the unborn infant, others say that no criminal liability whatsoever should be tied to the act of abortion.
In an interview with The New Times, Chantal Umuhoza, the Coordinator of Safe Abortion Action Fund, said the changes in the draft penal code aren’t enough.
“We should have a safe legal environment for safe abortion. There shouldn’t be conditions and restrictions for abortion to be carried out. It’s every woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy when they decide to. Women shouldn’t be subject to these long processes of going to courts of law,” she said.
The law requires a person who needs to abort to present a court order to the doctor, confirming that she fulfils the exceptions provided for in the law.
Umuhoza said they will continue to advocate for safe abortion to be completely legal while showing evidence and proof of why there is need for it.
Annet Mukiga, the Programme Officer of Rwanda Women’s Network gave her personal opinion, saying the draft penal code is fair enough especially because of the four circumstances under which one can carry out an abortion.
She, however, said punishments for the defilers and rapists should also be highlighted and heavy so that the whole problem is dealt with.
Cassien Havugimana, from Health Development Initiative, said it isn’t fair to send a woman who needs an abortion to court.
“The medical doctor’s approval should be enough to confirm the need for abortion without necessarily having to go to court,” he said.
The draft law orders courts to treat abortion cases petitioned to them, as a matter of urgency.
Havugimana observed that government should consider other conditions such as children who get pregnant at a tender age, still in school and those who are homeless or don’t have the capacity to raise a child.
He, however, commended the government for the efforts made to make a few considerations, urging them to continue lessening penalties on abortion.
He hastened to add that abortion will help improve maternal health and that it’s every woman’s right.
Reducing maternal mortality and ill-health is a priority for Rwanda. Addressing the unmet need for modern contraception is critical in order to reduce unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortions in the country.
About 60,000 pregnancies are terminated in Rwanda every year with 40 per cent leading to complications that necessitate treatment, according to a recent report.
During the passing of the legislation in parliament, seven women lawmakers abstained from voting on the abortion section, saying any form of abortion should be outlawed.
Speaking to The New Times, outside Parliament, Thadee Karekezi, the Executive Secretary of the civil society platform, said his organisation is against abortion and stressed that the only aspect they approve is when a qualified medical doctor confirms that the continuation of pregnancy jeopardises the health of the unborn baby or that of the mother.
“If we permit women to kill their unborn children, permit doctors to kill babies, tomorrow there will also come the phenomenon called euthanasia and we’ll accept it!”
Euthanasia is the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering.
“Rwanda cannot be the same country that abolished the death penalty, reduced punishments for Genocide convicts, and then gives the death sentence to the innocent ones. There are also psychological consequences to the woman even if she went ahead with it,” Karekezi added.
The amended penal code has been before parliament for about three years. It has been forwarded to the Senate for approval.
Contact email: maria.kaitesi[at]newtimes.co.rw, james.karuhanga[at]newtimes.co.rw