Civil society examines law on abortion

Rwandan civil society has scrutinized the new ministerial order on abortion as well as explaining it.

Published last month, the ministerial order N° 002/MoH/2019 details all necessary requirements to enable a physician to perform an abortion.

Pursuant to the constitutional provisions articles 120, 122 and 176 and article nº 68/2018 gazetted on 30/08/2018, women including girls below 18 years have a right to terminate a pregnancy before it is 22 weeks old, under certain conditions including: in case the pregnant person is very young, in case the pregnancy is a result of incest (up to second cousins), in case the pregnancy is a result of rape, and in case the pregnancy was a result of forced marriage.

A person may also seek abortion if the pregnancy poses a health risk to their lives.

The order outlines what should be contained in a request for a person seeking an abortion. Among these, when the pregnant person is below 18 years, the request has to be made by a guardian or a person legally representing her.

Commenting about the ministerial order, Dr AflodisKagaba, the Executive Director of Health Development Initiative Rwanda, said that laws about abortion are not meant to increase abortions but rather to save the lives of those that would abort anyway,

“The reason people put these laws in place is not to open the door for abortions. Everyone that is raped does not have to abort. But if some person that is raped absolutely decides to abort, the law then aims to protect her life from doing it in dangerous ways.

“The law aims at avoiding the deaths that come as a result of people aborting in dangerous ways,” he said.

He gave an example that in 2009, abortion was penalised with 15 years in jail, both for the woman who aborted, and for the doctor that helped her, yet this still did not stop women from aborting,

“Were abortions not carried out? They were!” he said.

“When countries put such laws, it’s not for opening. It’s for those who would abort anyway,” he added.

He also commented on the five and a half months that should not be gone beyond when an abortion is made, except when it may threaten the life of a mother.

He said that this was decided basing on “Viability,” which is the potential of the fetus to survive outside the uterus after birth. According to him, the youngest baby to have been born and survived was about 22 weeks (5 and half months),

“Some countries have gone even to allow abortions when the pregnancy is six months. But Rwanda chose the least viability, because abortions are not something highly welcome here,” he said.

Abortion in cases of rape, incest, forced marriage or the health of the woman or fetus has been legal since 2012, although a court and two doctors are needed to allow the procedure.

Parliament revised this law in 2018 to remove the requirement for a court and additional doctor’s permission.

The ministerial order says the woman has to inform the doctor the reason for the abortion, but the doctor doesn’t have to ask for the details.

The ministerial order also provides that only a qualified physician working at a public hospital or recognized clinic can perform an abortion.

Shortly before the new ministerial order came into effect, President Paul Kagame, last week, pardoned 367 persons convicted for the offences of abortion, complicity in abortion and infanticide.