The word abortion has several meanings but the one that qualifies them all is “the termination of the pregnancy before the fetus is viable.”
Women across the global and Malawi in particular, opt for abortion for several reasons: For young and unmarried persons, the reasons for seeking abortion include shame, fear of their parents and friends, as, such pregnancies are mostly unwelcome in the communities.
For others, it’s as a result of denial of responsibility by the one who has impregnated them. While, others carry out abortion simply because they don’t want both the pregnancy and the child to be born.
But abortion is illegal in Malawi, except when conducted under strict life threatening circumstances determined by qualified medical personnel.
As we are talking now, Malawi as a nation has lost a lot of women and girls who attempted to carry out abortion in unsafe way, but things did not work as planned.
This has therefore attempted some Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to ask government through Parliament to pass a bill which will allow women to carry abortion whenever they feel like not keeping it.
Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA) is one such CSOs which has come in the open to push for the same.
COPUA’s Secretary General is Dr. Francis Makiya and he says the illegal and unsafe abortion that a lot of women are procuring, is exposing them to death risks.
“The problem is that after procuring the unsafe abortion, the women later come to the hospital to seek post abortion care. But this time, the damage had already been done so it’s very tricky,” says Makiya.
He adds that much as abortion remains a crime in the country, a lot of women and girls are still conducting it in using unsafe ways ending up in government spending a lot of money addressing the problems women face after conducting unsafe abortion.
And one of the Human Rights Lawyers in the country, Chrispine Sibande says there is a need of revising the country’s penal code to make the service accessible by everyone.
Sibande quotes section 243 of the penal code which legalizes the abortion but on a special occasion of which to him sees no difference with just removing the criminal aspect in it.
“There is a confusion in the law because it has two sides. At the same time, the law says one can procure abortion if it poses a risk to both the mother and the child to be born while at the same time, the same law says no to abortion,” he says.
Sibande adds that there is a need to revise the constitution so that abortion be done at will.
Resistance from faith groups
However, as COPUA and others Civil Society Organization are pushing for the legalization of the same, the process continues to meet resistance especially from faith groups.
ECM Secretary General Fr Henry Saindi
Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) Secretary General, Father Dr. Henry Saindi says the stand of the catholic will remain NO to abortion of any kind because that is killing.
“There is no accidental pregnancy which deserves a removal. Whether the woman has been raped, defiled and there is an incest, catholic teaching does not condone abortion,” says Dr. Saindi
Agreeing with the Roman Catholic Church is the Muslim Association on Malawi (MAM).
MAM Spokesperson Sheikh Dinala Chabulika says the holy Quran is against killing of any kind in which abortion falls on the same category of killing.
“What is the criteria of determining the ‘unwanted pregnancy?’ try to procure an abortion, you will answer for the same in heaven,” says Chabulika.
High cases of unsafe abortion
However, our investigations which took us to Mulanje District, has found that the district, is one of many districts in the country which are registering high numbers of women and girls carrying out unsafe abortions.
For instance, in the past 24 months, between July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, the district has recorded 817 cases of abortion.
As parliament is yet to discuss this issue, our further investigations discovered that in the same district of Mulanje, there is a village abortion expert. We name her Abiti Galade, for her security. Investigations by YFM discovered that Abiti Galade, has been plying her trade for over 30 years now.
The Malawi Police Service is however failing to arrest her saying they have no immediate charge to level against her.
Our further investigations on the matter found out that Abiti Galade charges K7, 500. 00 for every abortion she conducts and the most shocking part was her admission that she has assisted girls as young as 12 years to abort their pregnancies. She said these girls were from primary schools in low classes of standard 4 or 5.
Unsafe abortion as a cultural issue
But what contributes to the increase of these disturbing cases of abortion in Mulanje?
Dr. Bertha Mvula, District Medical Officer at Mulanje District Hospital blames cultural practices such as initiation ceremonies of young girls. She said young girls are taught things that do not match with their age and that once the girls, come out of the initiation camps, they always want to try their newly acquired skills.
“The problem is that these young girls have no strength to negotiate for safer sex. They easily give in since they are young and this risks them,” she says.
However, Chief Executive Officer for the Lhomwe grouping, Mulhakho wa Lhomwe, Muchanakhwaye Mpuluka, holds a different opinion.
Mpuluka said lack of access to Sexual and Reproductive and Health Services (SRHR) which are youth friendly is the major factor that lead to unwanted and unplanned pregnancies.
“Don’t blame culture for this. There are a lot of health centers in the district where there are no provision of the SRHR and what do you think our youth will survive,” says Mpuluka.
Meanwhile, government through the ministry of Health and Population says the services are there but it has to do with altitude of those expected to take them.
“Each hospital be it District Hospital or Health Center has a youth friendly officer whose main job is to interact and supports the youth with SRHR services and its very surprising to hear some complaining on the shortage on the same,” he says.
A recent study by the ministry of health and some partners, has revealed that about 70, 000 women carry out abortion in the country of which 30, 000 out them have complications.
The biggest challenge with unsafe abortion, is that lives are either lost or endangered; while huge resources through post-abortion care go down the drain, a development that negatively affects the country as recent reports, show that Malawi is spending about K1.3 billion annually in addressing post abortion complications.
May be no one wants to address this challenge of unsafe abortion because those being affected are not their relatives or daughters… but until when will the country continue to loose promising young girls to unsafe abortion? Until when?
And a million dollar question to every Malawian now remains that should Malawi as a nation, legalize abortion or not and why is your choice like that.