Kenyan clergy, activists, clash over abortion

July 16, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 16 – A section of the clergy clashed with reproductive health specialists during debate on a clause seeking to legalise abortion in the Constitution.

The church leaders shouted down Kenya Reproductive Health and Rights Association chairman Joseph Karanja as he made his submission to the Committee of Experts on Constitution Review.

Mr Karanja had claimed that the church had stigmatised people by condemning abortion despite many youths dying due to illegal abortions carried out by untrained individuals.

“The Constitution we are proposing should include that life begins at conception because that is contentious and it’s not even the belief of all the religious groups,” said Professor Karanja amid objections that took the intervention of the session chair to allow him to resume with his submission.

A section of the clergy have threatened to mobilise the rejection of the Draft Constitution should the clause legalising abortion be included.

“Life is sacred. It is a gift from God and none of us sent an SMS or email asking him to create. He created us in his own image. So my church is completely against abortion at anytime,” Bishop Philip Sulumeti (Catholic) said.

“A woman cannot say she can do what she wants to do with what is in her womb. What is in her womb is a human being with his or her own rights,” he said adding to the growing opposition to proposed Reproductive Health and Rights Bill which among others proposes to allow women who have undergone rape the right to terminate her pregnancy.

They opposed the Bill describing abortion as ‘murder’ and said it showed disrespect for life and human dignity.

Several church leaders claimed that foreigners were behind the move to have abortion legalised and were targeting young people, adding that women were central in pushing through the issue.

"In the light of our conviction that the foetus has the right to live and develop as a member of the human family, we see abortion – the termination of life by the act of man – as a great moral evil," another religious leader asserted.

However, Committee of Experts Vice-Chairperson Atsango Chesoni pleaded with both sides cautioning them against taking polarising stands on contentious issues.

“This Constitution doesn’t belong to the Committee. So don’t think by rejecting it you will be hurting Chesoni. Yes as Chesoni and a Kenyan I will be hurt but not because it was rejected but because we would have passed the best opportunity to give the coming generation a new start,” Ms Chesoni said.

“So I am asking my Christian brothers and sisters, if you had been born a Muslim, if you had been born a woman or a girl and had the misfortune of being raped what would you want and what are the choices would you want available to you,” posed an emotional Ms Chesoni.

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