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Article 26 (4) of the Constitution, which allows for abortion only in a medical emergency/FILE

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Catholic bishops, pro-choice lobbyists clash over reproductive health law

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 5 – Catholic Church Bishops faced off with civil society groups advocating for reproductive health rights now contentious Reproductive Health Bill, 2020 currently before the Senate.

The Bill which is sponsored by Nakuru Senator Kihika Kimani has drawn mixed reactions over provisions to create an elaborate framework for the actualization of Article 26 (4) of the Constitution, which allows for abortion only in a medical emergency.

In a weekly statement read during Sunday Mass, Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) confirmed it will be honouring an invitation from the Senate to give the position of the Catholic church on the proposed amendments on the Bill.

Speaking on behalf of the Bishops, Nakuru Catholic Bishop Maurice Muhatia maintained it is also against the Constitution and the right to life and the protection of children and the family.

He said KCCB will use the opportunity to champion for matters pertaining defence of the family and the rights of the children.

“In our engaged with the Senate we shall seek to defend the right to life, the dignity of children and of family as an inseparable unit; we shall also advocate for the Ministry of Education and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development to provide value based human sexuality to learners,” Bishop Muhatia stated.

However, civil society groups working under the umbrella name Centre for Reproductive Rights accuse the clergy of intentionally misleading the general public on the contents of the Bill.

Evelyn Opondo Centre for Reproductive Rights’ Senior Regional Director for Africa voiced the lobby’s support for the proposed Reproductive Health Bill saying it will aid in curbing the rising rate of teenage pregnancies.

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“If we make all this options available and provide this information, then we are not going to have to deal with safe abortion cases and teenage pregnancies in this country. It is only that we are moralizing the whole issue and our young girls are stigmatized and they cannot access the services when they visit health centres,” she stated.

They claim the religious institutions which own a majority of primary and secondary schools in the country of frustrating efforts by the government to integrate into the education syllabus age-appropriate information on reproductive health.

“It is important that young people are given comprehensive sexuality education, so that they are able to make informed choices and then the parents can be able to continue with this process at the household level,” said Arthur Wekesa from Network for Adolescence and Youth of Africa.

But this not so according Bishop Muhatia who said the use of the term “age-appropriate” in the Bill is no longer the once effective modifier that served to protect children from exposure to harmful and explicit sexuality education.

“We should be careful not to sell our country for 20 cents to mercenaries of anti-life. We call upon Christians and people of goodwill to stand-up and defend the family unit, dignity of our children, the positive values of our people and our identities as Kenyans,” Bishop Muhatia said.

The Bishops charged that the contents of the Reproductive Healthcare Bill, 2020 wishes to introduce, in Kenya, unhealthy practices, encompasses controversial sexual and abortion rights, including for young children.

But Nelly Munyasia (Reproductive Health Network Kenya) and Jedidah Maina (Trust for indigenous Culture and Health) dismissed the claim and insisted that the Bill provides provisions which will allow adolescent and youth access to accurate information on sexual and reproductive health education.

The civil society groups have called the religious leaders to play a positive role in promoting constructive dialogue on sexual and reproductive rights.

“This is an agenda for Kenya and this is an agenda for Kenyan women. This Bill is not just abortion, it is a comprehensive reproductive bill; this will help people have families that they want and they need. This Bill also has information of contraceptives and family planning. This Bill has access for reproductive health for people with disability who have all along been left out,” the group said.

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