Liberalise the abortion law

28 September 2012
Author   Vince Shimutwikeni and Tuhafeni Muhongo

IN Namibia, abortion is only permitted on medical grounds – that is when the continued pregnancy of a women endangers her physical or mental well-being or that of her unborn baby.


And the law only permits abortion in cases where the conception of the unborn baby was a result of rape or sexual intercourse between close relatives i.e. an incestuous relationship.
Statistics over the past 5 years show that the phenomena of teenage and ‘unwanted’ pregnancies and baby dumping, which often results in the death of newborn babies, has drastically reduced the life chances of those mothers and their offspring.
Illegal, ‘back door’ abortions that compromise the health of women are widespread and prevalent in Namibia and as such, these statistics presuppose that the current abortion law is not adequately catering to the realities on the ground.
Abortion is often opposed for the reason that is does not respect the right to life.
Those opposed to abortion further argue that sex education and family planning campaigns should be intensified to prevent ‘unwanted’ pregnancies and that safe havens where unwanted babies can be abandoned are much better alternatives to terminating pregnancies.
This argument unfortunately ignores the recent ‘unwanted’ pregnancy rates particularly amongst learners despite the sex education and family planning campaigns and the fact that Namibia has the lowest adoption rate in the world to enable safe haven initiatives to function.
These alternatives may be appropriate but are not by themselves adequate in tackling the concerns raised above.
We argue that the current abortion law in Namibia must be amended to better cater to the social realities in Namibia.
Legislation should broaden the categories that permit abortions to include as well as consider and authorise abortion on the socio-economic circumstances of pregnant women as well as their inherent freedom of choice in matters regarding their reproductive health.
A liberalised abortion law will drastically reduce incidents of baby dumping, illegal ‘back door’ abortions and situations whereby unwilling and unprepared individuals are burdened with rearing children that would later experience their parents’ frustration through neglect.
The Constitution provides for the right to life but such right does not extend to unborn babies as life comes about on birth and not on conception.
The Constitution that seeks to emancipate women that have previously been disadvantaged because of their gender roles and the recent High Court Judgment that dealt with forced sterilisation recognise the inherent right of women to self autonomy over their reproductive health.
We should collectively ask ourselves, what right does society have in ‘forcing’ women to have children?
Furthermore, why should the ‘morals or conscience’ of a majority in a secular state such as ours erode the desired reasonable exercise of an individual’s free will?

 

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