The New Times (Kigali)

30 July 2009

Rwanda: Legalise Abortion, MPs Demand

Kigali — Members of Parliament yesterday expressed deep concerns over the continued government stand of keeping abortion illegal, with some calling for the total withdrawal of the article from the amended Penal Code.

Rwanda is still listed among the countries where abortion is illegal and punishable under the Penal Code. Abortion recently accounted for 50 percent of women who die from reproductive health complications, according to the Ministry of Health.

As discussions to revise the country's 30-year-old code went on for the second session, some lawmakers could not hold back their anger and dissatisfaction over the persistence of articles that still criminalise abortion.

A number of articles the new Penal Code details how abortion is punishable by the law and single out who are likely to face justice under such a crime, including the woman who aborts, a person who incites her to do so and, where applicable, a medical doctor who helps in the process.

"A woman can be raped and conceive, if you don't allow her to get rid of this, you are forcing her to beget a child she doesn't desire, which is a strong violation of her rights," challenged MP Julienne Kantengwa, amid murmurs of endorsement from other lawmakers.

"We are calling for family planning, so what is the logic behind not allowing abortion when necessary?" questioned the angry-sounding MP Ignancienne Nyirarukundo, wondering why they would endorse laws that continue to contravene women's rights.

Many of these lawmakers' interventions underlined that it doesn't make sense for a country like Rwanda to make abortion illegal while at the same time advocating for family planning, explaining that such a continued measure could cause psychological disorders for those involved.

"If we allow such laws to pass, then government should be held responsible for those girls and women who might opt for suicide," warned MP Juvenal Nkusi. But the President of House's Political Affairs Committee Bernadette Kanzayire insisted that since no consensus has been reached yet, the law should retain the status quo.

Under the Penal Code in force, punishment for abortion related crimes range from two to ten years in jail. Kanzayire however told her fellow lawmakers that the penalty may be increased following the consistent conspiracy of men who rape children and medical doctors who try to help them out.

Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama revealed that this universal debate has also reached the Cabinet and that a big number of ministers have expressed appreciation for the continued existence of laws punishing abortion.

"Personally I don't consider abortion as a murder, not because of less belief in religions, but because of the damages this is causing to people's lives," he told MPs, adding that debates should be opened on this issue to possibly come up with an appropriate stand.

Discussions to have the existing Penal Code revised are still under course, the new version is believed to contain over 600 articles.

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