The NEW PENAL code that came in force last month has seen a number of laws amended and among these is the law on abortion.
The new law requires that abortion be carried out after consultation between a woman and her doctor unlike previously when the final decision over whether a woman could have the procedure depended on the court.
The revised law, however, still provides for specific circumstances under which abortion is legally permissible, for example in cases of rape, forced marriage, incest, or instances where the pregnancy poses health risks to the mother or unborn child.
Previously, women often had to wait for weeks or months for a ruling for the procedure to be approved, something that came with its own set of limitations.
In 2009, Health Development Initiative, a local NGO that advocates for human rights, embarked on a campaign advocating for the decriminalisation of abortion so that it ceases to be a barrier to women’s health.
A study by the organisation shows that 60 per cent of unsafe abortions are among girls aged 25 and younger.
For some however, the argument on abortion is subject to personal interpretation, thus activists beg to differ, citing the apparent advantages that come with a relaxed law on abortion.
Aflodis Kagaba, the executive director at Health Development Initiative, says, this progress is an important step forward in the promotion and respect of women’s rights.
He says the removal of the court order will ease the process for eligible women and girls to access safe abortion.
The new law also allows defilement as one of the exemptions which means children who get pregnant will have also the possibility to access safe abortion, a move Kagaba commends highly saying that it will save them from abortion related complications and dropping out of school.
He also notes that, with the new law, consequences of unsafe abortion that pose significant public health challenges in Rwanda, especially among poor and young women, are set to be minimised.
“With the new law, we hope that the number of women who get abortion related complications such as infertility and mortality due to unsafe abortion will be significantly reduced as they can now access safe abortion at the nearest health centres or clinics,” he says.
He believes that the Government of Rwanda will also be able to save financial resources that were spent to deal with costly consequences of unsafe abortion.
Activists say that the new law will reduce abortion related complications and school dropouts among teenage girls. Courtesy photos
On whether the revised law poses possible drawbacks, Kagaba disagrees, saying that there is no disadvantage of complying with human rights instruments that the country ratified arguing that this is in fact the appropriate way of saving lives of women and girls.
“On the contrary, Rwanda will be recognised for its efforts in advancing women’s rights and health. As I mentioned earlier, if we can reduce unsafe abortion, our government will be able to save both the time spent by healthcare providers and financial resources that are currently spent on dealing with the consequences of unsafe abortion, and be able to respond to other important reproductive health needs of women.”
Honorine Uwababyeyi, the founder of Hope and Peace Foundation, says that the new penal code has come at the right time and that it obviously comes with tremendous changes that will not only impact the lives of women but society at large.
“Lives are going to be saved and women now have a bright future; for example, a girl whose pregnancy is out of rape or defilement won’t have to drop out of school. This is going to solve problems that would otherwise pose spiral effects on society,” she says.
Uwababyeyi says that though the previous law gave consent to abortion in certain circumstances, the need for court approval delayed the entire process making it hard to attain the law’s objective that it was intented to achieve in the first place.
“It was a long process and at times it didn’t solve anything because by the time the whole process was done, the pregnancy would be too old to be terminated. It could at times bring about stigma for women because the Rwandan culture encourages people not to expose personal matters yet the previous law demanded this.”
Call for constant readjustment
Cressence Mukantabana, a gender activist, articulates that devising lasting solutions for certain matters such as abortion at times calls for flexibility.
Minors whose pregnancy is out of rape or defilement won’t have to drop out of school. Courtesy photos
She is hence of the view that when the current measures don’t deliver in place the desired results then it’s better to change the approach.
Mukantabana observes that it is mostly young girls who are faced with sexual violence cases that seek unsafe abortion and, this, she says is very dangerous to their lives.
“There are some issues that need to be overcome by changing our mindset. You need to ask yourself if the strategies you put in place for certain problems are working and if they are not, adopt those that work,” she says.
She goes on to hail the revised law on abortion saying that it is going to help address problems such as teenage pregnancies, street children, and unsafe abortions among others.
“I am in complete support of the new law and I applaud the Government for such a great initiative that aims at supporting the welfare of women and ensuring that they have a say in their reproductive rights.”
Clement Kirenga, another gender activist, says that the new law will make it easier for women to avoid unwanted pregnancies that would ultimately impact on their rights and to their lives.
“This is going to save women’s lives that otherwise would have died from unsafe abortion. It is also going to have an impact in terms of productivity, and with such challenges out of the way, women will have a chance to increase time for more productive work,” he says.
Kirenga is also of the view that this new change will reduce on the population growth which is one of the major impediments to Rwanda’s economic growth and social development.
I think the law will reduce the number of children that are abandoned by their mothers because they do not want to keep them. Also the number of women that die due to unsafe abortion will be reduced. As for victims of sexual violence, this law is going to help them elude the trauma of having to raise a child born out of such unfortunate circumstances.
Weya Viatora, Artiste.
The journey to accessing abortion services has been a long one, women had to wait for the court to deliver a verdict, and it was a hard and painful process that added to the stigma that came from the community. At times some would gave up while as others chose to keep quiet and live with the stigma, but what we want is the best for both women and men.
Sylvie Nsanga, Woman activist.
Personally, I don’t approve of abortion but there are certain circumstances where it’s called for. When it comes to cases of violence, women should access these services which the previous law limited because of the bureaucratic tendencies it imposed. Women’s well-being matters and I think the new law has come to address this.
Alex Mucyeza, Drone expert.
I commend the Government for the review; I believe this new law is for the best. Young girls will not have to bear the burden of carrying unwanted pregnancies. This is a move that not only cares for women’s welfare but their empowerment as well.
Mutabazi Gakuba, IT Specialist.