8 June 2012

Rwanda: MPs to Harmonise Legislation On Abortion

Photo: United Nations Development Programme
Une femme enceinte

Parliament has been tasked with the harmonisation of the Abortion Act with Article 14 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa commonly known as the Maputo Protocol.

The article denotes health and reproductive rights, which calls for the protection of the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the foetus.

The Ministry of Justice wrote to parliament asking for the removal of reservations on article 14. Rwanda signed the Maputo Protocol but reservations abound on this particular article.

According to Frank Mwine Mugisha, the Principal State Attorney in the Ministry of Justice, there was need to remove the restrictions to ensure that the country's national laws are in line with the protocol.

"Our laws would be contradictory with the Protocol if we don't remove reservations. Once the reservations are removed, then the new Penal Code will be incorporating the Maputo provisions," he explained.

The contentious article is also in line with some of the provisions of the draft Penal Code.

Article 165, which absolves criminal liability of a woman who aborts her pregnancy under four particular conditions similar to those in the Maputo Protocol.

Mwine observed that the country takes into consideration both national and international laws.

"Rwanda isn't an island. So, we consider our own morals and culture but we also consider international law. Culture is dynamic, so it changes."

He, however, hastened to add that even though the restrictions are purged and the draft Penal Code is signed, abortion would still remain illegal as it is only considered in exceptional circumstances.

Mugisha noted that provisions such as seeking the approval of medics and navigating the court process for those seeking to carry out an abortion would be intricate.

According to Tom Mulisa, a human rights lawyer and lecturer at the Huye-based National University of Rwanda, contradictions would always persist if the country does not take away specific conditions such as having a court's and medical approval for one to perform an abortion.

"Rwanda thinks it has answered the call of Maputo Protocol but once there are still provisions that prohibit abortion on certain grounds or make it inaccessible, then they aren't complying with this treaty," Mulisa explained.

He said court process and medical consent makes it difficult as some medical facilities lack doctors while the court process is usually rigorous and complicated, thereby making abortion inaccessible.

He advised that in order for Rwanda to be compliant with the Maputo Protocol, it has to ensure that abortion is easily accessible by removing the controversial provisions as well as put in place all reproductive health measures.

The draft Penal Code has already been dispatched for presidential assent while the proposal to remove reservations on Maputo Protocol is still before parliament.

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