More women openly seek abortion services one year after Rwanda relaxes law

Doctors carry an operation on screen. The new regulations for abortion allow a mother not to provide evidence for why she is seeking an abortion. / File.

Slightly over a year after Rwanda changed the law on abortion, the number of women seeking to carry out the procedure appears to have increased. 

In October 2018, the government removed the requirement for court approval prior to an abortion procedure among other changes. 

 

These changes came into effect with a ministerial order established in April 2019.

 

The ministerial order outlined the conditions for a medical doctor to approve and provide abortion care.

 

With the new law, a woman is allowed to terminate a pregnancy of up to 22 weeks under 5 conditions that include the pregnancy being a result of rape, forced marriage, incest, or if the mother or baby are at health risk. 

The new regulations allow for a mother not to produce evidence for why she is seeking an abortion. However, if after the procedure, it is proved that the person on whom abortion was performed provided false information, she risks being charged.

 Health Development Initiative (HDI), an NGO that advocates for access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and service says it has assisted up to 154 women who approached them via their toll-free telephone lines inquiring about abortion this year (Jan-June 2020).

Of these, 84 were asking for information, 60 wanted to have abortion services (and got them), while 10 didn’t manage to get these services because their pregnancies were over 22 weeks.

For comparison purposes, officials told The New Times that from 2012 to 2018, only 5 women went to court to seek approval for a legal abortion.

Looking at the situation, two or more things are possible: abortions have increased, or they [abortions] have come into the light (meaning that, perhaps previously women used to abort, but secretly).

Christopher Sengoga the Head of Human Rights and Litigation at HDI says the people that approached HDI in regard to abortion were from 14 districts and the City of Kigali. 

Of these, the Eastern Province was leading with 48 women, Kigali followed with 41, the Northern Province with 30, the Western with 18, and the Southern with 17.

Hospitals are now providing abortion services to women, and also step in to give aftercare. However, Sengoga warned, people should be concerned about the potential psychological effects on mothers and their families. 

hkuteesa@newtimesrwanda.com

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