Penal Code review: MPs settle important question on abortion

Legislators, government officials and other stakeholders yesterday agreed to add a clause that provides for a lengthy prison term in the proposed Penal Code to punish anyone who performs an abortion procedure that results into adverse effects.
Minister Uwizeyimana addresses MPs about the Penal Code in Parliament yesterday. / Nadege Imbabazi
Minister Uwizeyimana addresses MPs about the Penal Code in Parliament yesterday. / Nadege Imbabazi

Legislators, government officials and other stakeholders yesterday agreed to add a clause that provides for a lengthy prison term in the proposed Penal Code to punish anyone who performs an abortion procedure that results into adverse effects.

The MPs, who are scrutinising the proposed Penal Code, argued that while prison terms and fines are prescribed in the current Penal Code for persons who help a woman to carry out abortion resulting in death, it is silent in case the procedure leaves the patient with temporary or permanent defects.

“Any person who carries out an abortion of a woman commits an offence. When convicted, they are liable to a term of imprisonment of not less than three years but not exceeding five years when there is consent. If abortion causes death, whether the victim consents to abortion or not, the offender is liable to life imprisonment,” the law reads in part.

The State Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Evode Uwizeyimana, told MPs that there are challenges when coming up with such laws but that the Government had to align itself with the international law, especially when it comes to controversial issues.

“People will always have different opinions. Some will claim to defend the foetus. Others will say that they are defending women’s rights. Some have religious beliefs. As a government, we come up with a position after making several considerations, including policies, international treaties and the constitution, among others,” he said.

While the current Penal Code allows abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape, incest, pregnant minors, forced marriage or when the health of the woman or foetus is at risk, the proposed law says a minor must apply for authorisation to abort.

Article 141 says: “If the person applying for authorisation to abort is a child, she will be accompanied by a parent or any other person with parental authority over her with a birth certificate, request a licensed doctor for authorization to abort.”

However, during yesterday’s discussions, the MPs and Minister Uwizeyimana agreed to add a clause that would give the minor a go-ahead in what the lawmakers called “protecting the child’s interests in case the parents fail to agree.”

Requirement to be fulfilled before a doctor carries out the abortion and many more details regarding this will be determined by an order of the Health minister.

MP Constance Rwaka warned that there was need to be vigilant to make sure that the doctors authorised to carry out legal abortions are persons of integrity.

“We don’t want to be in a position where someone is given authority to do something this serious and they turn around and turn it into some sort of business. There should be measures to keep them in check,” he said.

The Director of Health Development Initiative, Dr Aflodis Kagaba, who was at the deliberations, said the changes that are being initiated were commendable.

“The fact that there won’t be need to go through the courts of law to get authorisation (for abortion) is a milestone that should be celebrated. The changes have been considerate and of course the conversation will continue. What we are keen on right now is seeing what the contents of the order will be,” he said.

The deliberations on the draft Penal Code Bill will continue on Monday.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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