NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 29 – The Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA Kenya) on Monday sued the Ministry of Health (MoH) for barring healthcare workers from receiving training on how to conduct safe abortions.
It also sued the MoH for withdrawing the policy standards and guidelines as well as the training curriculum on safe abortions.
Through lawyer Harun Ndubi, FIDA argues that abortion is permissible in Kenya where the life of the expectant mother is at risk and therefore failing to prepare its healthcare workers for such an eventuality violates the expectant mother’s right to the highest quality of healthcare.
FIDA therefore wants the High Court to reinstate the policy standards and guidelines on when abortions can be procured legally in Kenya and to quash the memo that threatens, “legal and professional proceedings,” against members of the Kenya Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society that participate in trainings on the use of Medabon for safe abortions.
“Notwithstanding that the Kenyan Government, in line with WHO standards, has registered and listed the medicines Mifepristone and Misoprostol under the Kenya Essential Medicines list of 2010,” the petition reads.
The Ministry of Health, through the above referenced memo and withdrawal of abortion guidelines, FIDA argues, has created stigma around even legally sanctioned abortions and put the lives of hundreds of mothers at risk.
“Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that Kenya has a high maternal mortality rate of 488 per 100,000 live births. Further data from the bureau also shows that unsafe abortion is one of the main causes of maternal mortality with an estimate of 266 women dying per 100,000 unsafe abortions.”
So barring public health officials from receiving training on how to conduct safe abortions, FIDA argues, also violates Kenya’s international commitments to reducing maternal mortality.
Party to the suit is a 12-year-girl who was defiled and impregnated by her step-father and who, FIDA says, is unlikely to have children again after a botched abortion they argue would never have taken place had she not be turned away from a public health facility.
“The warning that those healthcare workers who attend trainings on safe abortion services will be subjected to legal and professional proceedings increases likelihood of women undergoing cruel, inhumane treatment in the hands of untrained persons who will use non-medical methods such as insertion of objects like crochet or knitting needles, sticks, pipes, wires, pens or even ingesting dangerous substances such as detergent, concentrated tea or overdosing on medication such as malaria medicines.”
In light of the 12-year-old girl’s plight, FIDA also wants the High Court to declare rape or defilement as one of the legal grounds for termination of pregnancy.
Former Director of Medical Services Francis Kimani in December 2013 withdrew the Standards and Guidelines for Reducing Morbidity and Mortality from Unsafe Abortion in Kenya and the National Training Curriculum for the Management of Unintended, Risky and Unplanned Pregnancies, “for further consultation and review.”
In February 2014 he sent out a memo to all County Directors of Health stating, “The Constitution of Kenya 2010 is clear that abortion on demand is illegal. Because of this there is no need of training health workers on safe abortion or importation of drugs for medical abortion.”