Parliament should consider public opinion before making any amendments on abortion legislation, religious leaders have said.
Speaking during a joint news conference, on Monday, nearly 20 religious leaders from various denominations, urged vigilance before the final decision is taken, with some calling for a referendum on the issue.
Anglican Church Archbishop, Rt. Rev. Onesphore Rwaje, said that since abortion leads to dire consequences it was “very important” that the opinion of the public is sought first.
“Views from the public should be heard before making any decision, otherwise there’s a likelihood of making decisions that may be unpopular with the public. As a democratic nation, people’s views should be listened to and considered,” he said.
Article 165 of the draft Penal Code, which was approved last week by the Chamber of Deputies and promptly forwarded to the Senate for further scrutiny, criminalises abortion but outlines four exceptional cases under which it may be permitted by a court of law.
The article stipulates that there is no criminal liability for a woman who causes her own abortion and a medical doctor who helps a woman to abort provided that any of the following conditions are met. They are; in case of pregnancy as a result of incest, rape, forced marriage, and/or when the continuation of a pregnancy seriously jeopardises the health of the unborn baby or the pregnant woman.
But Rwaje insisted that, rather than accepting abortion under those conditions, measures should be taken to address the four highlighted causes “since they are the problem and not abortion”.
He argued that some people were also born as a result of terrible circumstances, like rape, forced marriages or incest, among others, but have gone on to become useful citizens to the nation.
Pastor Charles Mugisha of New Life Bible Church, Kicukiro, said abortion is infanticide and, therefore, it shouldn’t be legalised under any condition.
“A referendum should be carried out and let the public decide on whether they really want abortion to be legalised or not.
“Otherwise, if it’s made legal, there won’t be anything restraining people from aborting, thus leading to more abortions, with several people hiding behind the four exceptions to carry out an abortion,” he said.
Bishop Simaragde Mbonyitege, of the Catholic Diocese of Kabgayi, said there was no justification whatsoever for one to abort.
He said that abortion “in every aspect, under every condition is equivalent to killing” and no bit of it should be legalised.
Bishop Mbonyitege emphasised the need to deal with the circumstances that lead to abortion, instead of destroying the life of an innocent child, stressing that only God has the right to take a life.
The clergyman said the Church will continue to be “the voice of the voiceless” through advocating for the life of the unborn child by standing against abortion.
Retired Anglican Archbishop, Most Reverend Emmanuel Kolini, said abortion was wrong, adding that pouring innocent blood brings terrible conditions on a nation.
He, however, couldn’t commit himself regarding clause four of Article 165, which permits abortion to save a life.
Asked his position in case a woman who has been advised by medical personnel to abort due to the fact that the health of mother/baby was at great risk if they continued with the pregnancy, Kolini said the decision should be between the two parents.
“The decision should be made by the two parents of the child and a medical doctor. If they are uncertain about the decision, they should ask for God’s help,” he said.
Asked the same question, Archbishop Rwaje couldn’t also commit himself on whether he would advise a woman in that situation to terminate the pregnancy or not, only insisting that abortion is wrong.
Bishop Mbonyitege, however, stuck to his guns, saying “abortion is killing and therefore wrong”.
Pastor Mugisha was even more forthright. “If that is the case, then why don’t they kill women who have been raped by people infected with HIV/ Aids; after all, it means that they will eventually die.”
“Therefore, it isn’t justifiable to destroy an unborn child’s life because of a health complication. That is more like committing infanticide. We should give children a chance to live and let God decide if He wants to take their lives,” he said.
The senior pastor, Zion Temple, Apostle Paul Gitwaza, noted that he, too, had a son who the doctors claimed should be aborted because he had a problem with his brains. “I declined and, today, the child is in good health and is always among the best in his class.”
Archbishop Rwaje warned that secularism was knocking at the door of the country, so Rwandans should be very careful not to let it in.
Anglican bishop, Louis Muvunyi, of Kigali Diocese, Rwanda is down the same lane the US took when it started legalising abortion “bit-by-bit.”
However, the clerics’ position will not be taken lightly by some activists who argue that abortion should be decriminalized at once.
Chantal Umuhoza, the Coordinator of Safe Abortion Action Fund, stated that it’s a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, arguing that legalising abortion can help improve maternal health.
“We should have a safe legal environment for safe abortion. There shouldn’t be conditions and restrictions for abortion to be carried out,” she said.
Cassien Havugimana, the Program Manager of Health Development Initiative, said there were other conditions that should justify abortion such as children who get pregnant at a tender age, while in school, those who are homeless, as well as don’t have the capacity to raise a child.
About 60,000 pregnancies are terminated in Rwanda every year, with 40 per cent leading to complications that require treatment, according to a recent report.