Health Development Initiative (HDI), an Non Government Organisation that organizes and promotes community-based healthcare development in Rwanda, is advocating for abortion to be decriminalized.
HDI revealed this during a media advocacy workshop last month, calling for media to take part and play a role.
The HDI Programs Manager, Cassien Havugimana said that unsafe abortion is a cause of death, and other health complications.
“Deaths due to unsafe abortion make up 13 percent of maternal deaths according World Health Organisation.Unsafe abortion therefore pauses many risks to women’s health,” Havugimana said.
He further stated that since it’s a crime to abort in Rwanda, many women do it without medical and professional attendance thus putting their health in danger.
Havugimana said that even those that go to a professional, do it under fear and pressure since both doctor and patient are worried of being jailed incase found carrying out the act.
Havugimana said that the Parliament of Rwanda lessened the punishment for abortion from between 5 and 15 years to 1 to 3 years.
He also noted that the penal code made a few amendments whereby rape cases, pregnancies of incest couples and those which pause a health risk and danger to mothers’ lives where made exceptions for abortion to be carried out.
The HDI program manager hailed parliament for these amendments but however hastened to add that the penalties should be completely scrapped off.
“Just imagine a school girl who gets pregnant and aborts. If she is arrested for three years, then she will have to miss school for all those years or even completely drop out which would be unfair,” explained Havugimana.
Havugimana noted that Rwanda can’t achieve Millennium Development Goal 5(improving maternal health) while still holding abortion as a crime.
“Criminalizing abortion is a barrier for Rwanda to achieve Millennium Development Goal 5 which aims at improving maternal mortality, a goal Rwanda is driven to accomplish,” he added.
He said that HDI is calling for abortion decriminalization in order to improve maternal health and reduce maternal mortality.
A survey carried out by the National University of Rwanda (NUR) School of Public Health revealed that 10 percent of abortions carried out in Rwanda are unsafe.
Havugimana said that the organization is now planning to carry out a public debate involving organizations against abortion including religious bodies and other stakeholders. He added that after the public debate, conclusions and recommendations will be made.
The Advocacy and Communications Officer of HDI, Christine Calouro, said that decriminalizing abortion is essential to achieve women’s rights.
“Contrary to public opinion, the act of legalizing abortion hasn’t proven to increase the number of abortions and that instead society may be able to benefit from the decriminalizing of abortion,”Calouro said.
She was also happy with the lessening of the sentence of those caught aborting. Like her colleague, Calouro thinks that it’s better to completely scrap away even the 1 to 3 years prison sentence because it still portrays abortion as a crime.