, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 29 – A balloon arch frames the doorway on the other side of which waiters stand with drinks in hand; all in honour of Monica Oguttu and three others who, “have done the most to enhance the rights of women to obtain comprehensive reproductive health care”.
Monica, in particular, was recognised by the non-governmental organisation IPAS on Wednesday for the role she has played in advocating for safe abortion.
“Abortion is a subject no one wants to touch. So much so that people don’t even know a miscarriage is a form of abortion,” Oguttu told Capital FM News.
Founded in 1973, IPAS has a mission to, “increase women’s ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, especially the right to safe abortion.”
Monica joined the IPAS movement in 1996 having served as a mid-wife for 13 years and recollects the case that changed her outlook.
“I am a Catholic and contraceptive use – let alone abortion – is something my faith does not permit but seeing a sixteen year-old forced to use a colostomy bag and rendered barren because we refuse to address abortion is something I could no longer stand for.”
As a matron at the Kenyatta National Hospital, Monica remembers reporting to work one Monday to find a teenage girl from Machakos bedridden on account of a botched abortion.
“Whoever carried out the abortion did not even know which hole to go up and using what I assume was a metal instrument of some sort went up her anus damaging it before they realised their mistake and proceeded to puncture her uterus,” Monica recounted.
“It broke my heart to see my fellow healthcare workers leave her in pain because they felt she had brought it on herself. I kept thinking we were also to blame. Why did we shut our doors to her when she needed our help then open them when the damage was already done?”
Not looking back from that moment, Monica took the fight to Washington DC where she joined other women in protesting what was referred to as the global gag rule – a policy that prohibited American funding of foreign NGOs that advocated for safe abortion – a ban later lifted by President Barack Obama as one of his first actions in office.
Monica’s cause also won her the prestigious Planned Parenthood Margaret Sanger Award in 2004; an award that has also been received by the likes of Hilary Clinton and Martin Luther King Jr.
She now continues the battle on the home front and insists that a nation dialogue needs to begin on abortion, “The turning point in the fight against HIV/AIDS was removing the stigma that surrounds it.”
“When I worked at the Nyanza Provincial Hospital I remember a student from Maseno University on her deathbed begging me not to tell her father that she died from an abortion-caused hemorrhage. How then could the back-alley quack who killed her be brought to justice?”
In order to significantly reduce maternal mortality in Kenya – one of the Millenium Development Goals set for 2015 – Monica is adamant that a discussion on abortion needs to begin: “Abortion related complications are one of the top five causes of mothers dying in child birth. It is no longer enough for the church to tell young girls to abstain because they will experiment, so we need to talk to them about their contraceptive options.”
“If they do get pregnant they need to be made aware of all the choices that are available to them and be given the freedom to choose. Whether we acknowledge it or not, if they want an abortion, they will get it. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand.”