Healthcare professionals, lawyers, policymakers, and reproductive health advocates are gathering today in Kampala to discuss abortion laws and policies in Uganda, addressing current misunderstandings of the country's position and discussing strategies to reduce unsafe abortions. Representatives from the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development are leading the discussion.
Uganda's laws and policies addressing abortion are unclear, confusing, and often contradictory. Consequently, although abortion is legal to preserve the life or mental or physical health of a woman and in cases of sexual assault, many people--including health care professionals--are under the impression that abortion is illegal.
"The true content and scope of Uganda's abortion laws needs to be clarified and publicized if health care providers are to be able to provide the critical reproductive health services that are every woman's fundamental human right," said Elisa Slattery, regional director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
"The government must broaden access to information among health care professionals and the public at large. It's the only way to ensure the safe provision of reproductive health care, and stop unsafe abortion from killing and disabling women in Uganda," said Moses Mulumba, executive director of the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development.
Unsafe abortion is one of the most easily preventable causes of maternal mortality. More than a quarter of maternal deaths in Uganda occur because of unsafe abortion according to an estimate by the Ministry of Health in Uganda. Many of these deaths are in large part because of confusion and ignorance of reproductive health laws. Each year approximately 85,000 Ugandan women receive treatment in medical facilities for complications from unsafe abortion. Another 65,000 women suffer complications from unsafe abortion that require medical care but do not get treatment in a facility. Ensuring that health care providers in Uganda know when abortion can be provided legally and are trained to provide safe abortion and post-abortion care services are crucial steps for Uganda to reduce maternal death and disability from unsafe abortion in the country.
During the panel, the Center for Reproductive Rights will discuss key findings from its research report on Uganda's laws and policies on termination of pregnancy. The report found that the laws and policies are more expansive than most believe, and Uganda has ample opportunity to increase access to safe abortion services.
The Uganda Constitution does not prohibit abortion and, in fact, contains key provisions that can be used to ensure access to safe and legal abortion services and post-abortion care. The government acknowledges that the law on termination of pregnancy contains a life and mental and physical health exception. The Uganda government has affirmed the importance of access to safe abortion services, and the Ministry of Health issued the 2006 National Policy Guidelines and Services Standards for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (National SRH Guidelines)--the only government-issued document that clearly outlines the circumstances under which abortion may be provided in Uganda. However, few copies of this document appear to be in circulation, and are scarce even within the Ministry of Health. As a result, health care providers are too often unfamiliar with the permitted grounds for providing safe and legal abortions. This lack of access to critical information continues to have devastating consequences for the women of Uganda.