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Activists urge Kenya to allow abortion

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 10 – A New York based research organisation on Wednesday said the legislative prohibition of abortion in the draft constitution was likely to lead to more clandestine and unsafe abortions in the country.

Alisha Bjerregaard of Centre For Reproductive Health Rights claimed that despite abortion being illegal in Kenya, over 21,000 women were admitted in public hospitals annually with complications related to unsafe abortion.

“Over 2,600 women die every year due to complications from unsafe abortion, these are only deaths in public hospitals, and the risk of dying due to unsafe abortion is high in Kenya,” she said.

The organisation says Kenya’s abortion fatality rates were substantially higher compared to other African regions and more than nine times higher than in the developed regions.

Ms Bjerregaard asserted that the high death rates due to unsafe abortion were a direct consequence of Kenya’s abortion law which she described as restrictive.

She also said lack of clarity about legal access to abortion would lead to widespread misinformation among medical providers which is likely to lead to denials of access to safe abortion even where permitted under the law.

According to her, the legislative prohibition of abortion will not prevent women from seeking abortion but instead will force them to seek for more discreet and dangerous ways of doing away with unwanted pregnancies, which will lead to more maternal deaths and more reproductive health complications.

She said the impact of unsafe abortion was already far too heavy and adopting the new law will hurt the rights of women to reproductive health.

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Ms Bjerregaard said: “the failure to comprehensively address unsafe abortion has created a rarely-acknowledged public health crisis in Kenya and given rise to serious violations of human rights.”

She expressed concerns that women were using lethal methods to remove unwanted pregnancies leave alone going to quacks to terminate pregnancies.

“Women insert objects such as catheters, crotchets and knitting needles, sticks, pipes, coils or wires, herbs, pens. In other cases they drink dangerous substances like bleaches, bluing products, concentrated tea, soapy water, overdose of malaria pills and other forms of medication,” she said.

According to the research carried out between June 2009 and February 2010 in Kisumu, Nairobi, Suba and Mombasa, sexual violence, lack of access to information on sex education, poverty, lack of access to contraceptives, high costs of abortion and fear of arrest were some of the leading factors to unsafe abortion.

She said there was also a shortage of emergency contraceptives in most parts of the country and serious stock outs of other contraceptives in government hospitals.

But she acknowledged lack of youth friendly family planning facilities for young girls across the country which she said was a major cause to unwanted pregnancies.

She also said young girls procured abortions in order to continue with their studies, “Many girls are unwilling to risk their education because they have become pregnant.”

It is unclear whether life begins at birth or at conception with medical experts arguing it starts after birth and religious groups believing otherwise.

Inclusion of this clause in the constitution has become a sensitive matter and is likely to affect the voting pattern during the referendum as some religious groups have publicly said they will vote against the draft if abortion is legalised.

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