The government could soon table before Parliament an amendment Bill that seeks to cut the bureaucracy involved in the process of authorising abortion.
Although abortion is a criminal offence under the Rwandan law, the practice has a waiver under Article 165 of the Penal Code that absolve from any criminal liability a woman who procures abortion or a medical doctor who facilitates the abortion in case of pregnancy as a result of incest, rape, forced marriage, and/or when the continuation of a pregnancy seriously threatens the health of the unborn baby or the pregnant woman.
But for the waiver to come into force, a professional doctor and a competent court of law must have authorised the procedure to terminate the pregnancy.
However, pro-abortion activists and some legal minds argue that such sections, introduced in the Penal Code ostensibly to prevent unnecessary abortions, present lengthy bureaucracies in processing legal authorisation before one can procure an abortion.
Besides, they say, the article does not specify the actual time an individual should decide whether to terminate or keep the pregnancy, arguing that this could ultimately endanger the life of the mother seeking to terminate a pregnancy.
Speaking to The New Times, last week, Theophile Mbonera, a principal state attorney and the head of legal services at the Ministry of Justice, said while it is the prerogative of the Law Reform Commission to propose alterations of laws, government had started considering revising the law but as a whole.
“We have also noted a number of constraints but it does not mean we have to immediately start revising the law; one or two cases cannot get us back to the amendment table, there will be a need for more evidence,” he said.
Mbonera acknowledged that silent on the actual time an individual would decide whether to terminate or keep the pregnancy, was a big challenge, on top of lengthy bureaucracy or absence of legal representations for some individuals.
The government’s move is in response to the concerns that the law is very stringent and some change in it is needed to prevent women from opting for unsafe abortion, which puts their lives at risk.
John Gara, the chairperson of the Rwanda Law Reform Commission, told The New Times that the process of reviewing the Penal Code has started, but declined to comment more on what exactly would be altered, saying it is a cross-cutting review not limited to the articles on abortion.