President Paul Kagame last week pardoned 62 girls and women convicted of abortion.
The President exercised his constitutional right under the prerogative of mercy, a decision that was hailed by civil society and women rights activists. While this is a good gesture, the bigger challenge lies in the form and substance of the current law on abortion. The current law on abortion makes it hard for girls with genuine reasons to seek legal abortion services. It involves a rigorous court procedure which denies the victim some minimum level of confidentiality. As a result, many young girls resort to life threatening, illegal abortion.
In March, Rwanda Law Reform Commission (RLRC) proposed that the law on abortion be relaxed to allow easy approval of abortion without a woman having to go through rigorous court procedures which include cross-examination and revelation of details of the ordeal that the victim went through. Some of these may be as bad as a girl testifying against a father who raped and impregnated her. No girl would wish to reveal such information in public. Giving such a testimony in public is double torture for the victim.
Under the current law, abortion is permitted in case of pregnancy as a result of incest, rape, forced marriage, and when the continuation of a pregnancy seriously threatens the health of the unborn baby or the pregnant woman.
However, legal experts say that, while this law is good, it has also fuelled the problem of illegal abortions because of the conditions one has to fulfil in order to get safe abortion services.
If the proposed amendments are fast tracked, it will go a long way in preventing illegal abortions which expose young girls and women to lifelong health complications and, in extreme cases, death.