By Gregory Gondwe
Dr. Ausbert Thoko Msusa of the College of Medicine
Parliamentary Legal Affairs Chair Lewis Chakhwantha
Human Rights Lawyer Tinyade Kachika
A College of Medicine lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology Ausbert Thoko Msusa has said government of Malawi is sponsoring unsafe abortions through the caring for post abortion care complications.
Msusa said according to research the government-run health care facilities bear the brunt as the government incurs a cost of between USD $300,000- $500,000 annually.
At an interface meeting organised for Parliamentary Committee on legal affairs by Ipas Msusa said the high cost of abortion has severe implications for women, especially those in rural areas.
He said the findings shows that approximately 70,000 women have abortions every year while about 30,000 of these women are treated for complications of unsafe abortion annually.
Lawyer Tinyade Kachika who is Managing Consultant at Lawplus says the country’s Penal Code Sections 149 – 150 make it an offence for a woman or a third party to procure a miscarriage, to supply the poison, instrument or other means necessary to do so, or to act with the intention to carry out the above.
She however says this contradicts Section 243 which says “a person is not criminally responsible for performing in good faith and with reasonable care and skill a surgical operation upon any person for his benefit, or upon an unborn child for the preservation of the mother’s life…”
She says there is need for abortion law reform because from a human rights perspective unsafe abortion due to restrictive law violates the right to safe abortion as recognised by the African Union which was ratified by Malawi in May 2005.
She says this is the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, also known as the Maputo Protocol, is the only treaty that specifically recognises the right to safe abortion.
Kachika observes that according to the charter the State Parties shall authorise medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest; and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus”.
Msusa said as a result of this law, women are paying a high price physically, economically and socially.
“One in five women who receive post abortion care had severe complications that need to be treated,” he said.
Msusa said at 675 per 100,000 live births, Malawi’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world.
“17 percent of these deaths are attributable to unsafe abortion,” he said.
He said those involved in unsafe abortions included 35 percent of women with first pregnancy while 61 percent were married women.
Msusa said 90 percent of women required womb scraping while 43 percent required stay in hospital more than a day, 4.6 percent required blood transfusion while about 14 percent had severe infection
Chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on legal affairs Lewis Chakhwantha said the will need to consult widely before committing to the review of the abortion law in the country.
“The public perception is a hostile one towards this bill and we will first, gauge the temperature to see how responsive the public will be to the suggestion and only after we get a nod from the people will we be able to support it,” he said.
Anglican Church Priest Austin Kalimbe said it is necessary as Malawian Christians to reform the law because the Bible is not explicitly saying yes or no to abortion.
“We need to reflect about loss of life of women. If this is something that is going to save life of women then I am attempted to say yes to the safe abortion,” said Father Kalimbe.
Parliamentary Health Committee Chairperson Juliana Lunguzi snubbed the calls for safe abortions, telling off those calling for it to count her out.
“Unless you design messages for me to deliver to my constituents, I can never ask them to start carrying out abortions,” argued Lunguzi, herself a trained nurse and midwife.