Kenya has one of the highest abortion rates in the world at 48 abortions per 1000 women of reproductive age. Nearly 120,000 Kenyan women received post abortion care due to complications arising from unsafe abortions in 2012. An unsafe abortion is a procedure for terminating a pregnancy carried out by persons lacking the required skills or in an environment that doesn’t conform to medical standards, or both. A safe abortion is therefore one performed by a health professional in an environment that conforms to medical standards.
Article 26(4) of the Kenyan Constitution states, abortion is permitted when ‘in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.’ The constitution as such provides for specific instances where abortion is permitted, and in those instances it is imperative to ensure the abortions are safe.
According to the Ministry of Health study, ‘Incidence and Complications of Unsafe Abortions in Kenya’, an estimated 157,762 women received PAC (Post Abortion Care) for complications of induced and spontaneous abortions in 2012 (where “spontaneous abortion” refers to a miscarriage). Nearly 120,000 Kenyan women received post abortion care due to complications arising specifically from unsafe abortions in 2012. These numbers are astounding and, regardless of one’s opinion abortion, cannot be ignored.
In 2012, the Ministry of Health launched the Standard and Guidelines on Reducing Maternal Mortality and Morbidity from Unsafe Abortion. The guidelines were a comprehensive guide to health professionals on safe abortions in accordance with Article 26 and were drawn up with the participation of various stakeholders. However, the guidelines were withdrawn in December 2013, and a memo issued to health workers by the Director of Medical Services in February 2014 to cease training on safe abortion care and the use of the drug Medabon for medical abortion.
The withdrawal of the guidelines has left health professionals in a limbo. Will they be prosecuted for carrying out safe abortions as per the constitution? Further, the women who are most likely to not receive safe abortion care are women from low income areas.It is unacceptable that the most vulnerable of our populace is being unduly punished.
Abortion is an emotive issue but this must not be used as a weapon against the vulnerable in society.The constitution must be upheld. Article 26(4) is clear on the parameters in which a safe abortion can be performed. On 20th May 2016, a number of organizations that work with women wrote a letter to the CS for Health, Dr. Cleopa Mailu, to agitate for the signing and support of the launch of The Policies, Standards and Guidelines for the Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Kenya 2015. We need to rethink the ways in which we address the pressing issue that is unsafe abortion in Kenya.
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