According to the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, abortions are only permitted if in the opinion of a trained healthcare professional, there is a need for emergency treatment, the life or health of the mother is in danger or if permitted by any other written law.
Yet despite this, over 120,000 women were hospitalized for complications due to unsafe abortions in one year. While stigma over the procedure and in some cases cost, may be a factor in why women are choosing the more nefarious path, it is becoming more evident that an ignorance of the law is leading to the deaths of seven women a day,
Maternal mortality is the country’s leading killer of women – and of that a whopping 35 percent of deaths are caused by unsafe abortions. It is important to remember that the global average is 13 percent.
One reason behind this, is while the procedure is legal, under certain circumstances, the penal code is unclear, leading to confusion from law enforcement.
Dr. John Nyamu, Director of reproductive services in Nairobi, echoed this, saying that while women may be going for legal and safe abortions, the consequences were unclear.
He added, “We need to change the penal code, because it has not been changed since 2010 and it still allows police to arrest anyone from health providers under certain sections of the penal code.”
Some of these penal codes include article 158 which states that, “Any person who, with intent to procure miscarriage of a woman, whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.”
Additionally, article 160 also penalizes any person who unlawfully supplies to or procures for any person anything, whatever that would be used to procure the miscarriage of a woman whether she is with child or not.
While it could be argued that these are reasonably penal codes, it is easy to see how they can be misconstrued and used to persecute not only women who need to have an abortion but the health professionals themselves. Particularly by law enforcement or officials who are decidedly against the procedure.
Charles Ngwena was once quoted saying, “Laws that criminalize abortion but without concomitantly articulating clearly the grounds for lawful abortion…unduly deter healthcare providers from providing health services to women even where abortion is lawful. Equally such laws create misperceptions about abortion as conduct that is criminal are all times.”
It is this belief that it is illegal that leads thousands of women to seek help from quacks, leading to health complications, infections, infertility and even death.
Abortions are a serious issue facing a number of women in Kenya, and if you find yourself with an unplanned pregnancy, you are not alone. For a free health assessment and advice on your safe options call Marie Stopes Kenya on 0800720005.