14 March 2013

Kenya: Serial Abortions Becoming Cool in Kenya

Photo: Radio Okapi
Women wait outside Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

There are some issues in society that will never die off and as much as we try to turn our backs, the debate on abortion can never go away.

It is a silent 'problem' that many women, oblivious or ignorant of the consequences, continue to procure abortions. Apparently more women abort than we ever thought possible with some aborting as many as six times.

Aron says his wife has aborted four times. "We have been married for six years and we have no children yet as my wife says she is not ready to raise a child. I don't know what to do about it. You see before I married her it was like she had already procured an abortion because she has been doing it so often. It is very hard for me but it is something that she is used to and I don't know what to tell her or how to stop her," he says.

Esther says two in three women have procured an abortion and the conversation amongst women is not whether you have aborted, but how many times one has done it.

"I did it twice last year since I didn't want the pregnancy. Many of my aunties and cousins have had an abortion at one time and the procedure takes two minutes. It took me less than 20 minutes at a top Nairobi hospital and I was done and back to the office. It is as simple as that," says Mumbi.

Sandra says she has lost count of the many times she has had an abortion. "I have done it so many times and I don't know how it happens, I just find myself in the situation. I have even become a regular customer in the place where I go for the procedure," she says.

Oblivious of the dangers she is exposing herself to, Sandra adds that five to ten minutes after the procedure, you can be back to work or even walk in the street and no one will know you've just had an abortion.

"Apart from feeling a little fatigued, there is nothing more. My husband doesn't want another child and when I use contraceptives, he complains so I cannot go for them and neither does he want to use condoms," says the mother of two, adding that she has never considered a permanent method of family planning.

Brenda, a mother of one, says her husband is very irresponsible and she takes all the load on her shoulders. She has aborted five times and at the moment she is expecting but will wait until two months when she can procure an abortion.

"My husband doesn't care about us and I have to abort because I have a baby boy and it's like I am the only one who is taking charge of all the expenses; I do almost everything. I am about one month and three weeks pregnant.When I am two months pregnant, I will go for the safe abortion that takes five to ten minutes. You can even run a marathon after that," she says.

The 'safe abortion' as Brenda calls it costs between Sh8,000 to Sh13,000.

"I want to do it when it's two months because I do not want him to realise I am carrying his baby. If he knows I was having his baby and I aborted, he will kill me. It's not a big deal because there is no need of bringing someone into this world and there is no money. I do not like bringing street children into this world. Even the doctor who does it advises me it's better to get rid of the baby instead of bringing him into this world and torturing him," she confides.

A doctor who sought anonymity says he performs these procedures on a daily basis, sometimes getting two patients per day at a cost of Sh 3,000 to Sh7,000.

"If the pregnancy is less than three months, it is a procedure that takes less than 30 minutes. There is not much bleeding; it is a very safe procedure but if it is more than six months, then that one has to be admitted and it may takes days," says the doctor who gets his clients from referrals from those who have had abortions.

He has regular clients especially those who are married because they do not want to have more children.

"What the women are saying is actually true. It takes around ten minutes and I haven't been in the scene for long but I see it happening though I have not performed the procedure," says another doctor who did not want his name mentioned.

Mercy's friend has procured many abortions and is now a regular customer who even gets discounts and commissions every time she takes a new customer.

"I have also done it myself and I was introduced to the place by my friend. Now I am a regular customer and if I take a new customer, I get Sh500 discount."

While some women may not have a problem with abortion or procuring one, others are very much against it for the simple fact that it is immoral and does not respect the right to life.

"Don't these women feel anything, how heartless can one be? I mean there is the pill and the injection, why can't they do that? That is immoral," says Sheila.

Jeremy says he cannot believe that a woman would even consider having an abortion. "There are condoms and the contraceptive pills are supposed to be used by those who are married. What has our society turned to?" Jeremy asks.

Prof Joseph Karanja, a gynaecologist and obstetrician teaching at the University of Nairobi, says contrary to popular belief, abortion is not illegal in Kenya. It is however restricted by certain provisions in the constitution.

According to Article 26 of the constitution, abortion is not permitted unless where there is need for emergency treatment to preserve the life of the pregnant woman and/or the foetus; where there is threat to the life of the pregnant woman; where there is threat to the health of the pregnant woman; and if it is permitted by any international law that Kenya is a signatory to.

The termination of pregnancy is also lawful if performed by a trained health professional. That is a registered medical practitioner, registered clinical officer, nurse and midwife who has acquired the relevant skills for decision making and provision of the service.

Prof Karanja says the health professional must also provide counseling to the woman to determine whether the pregnancy poses a danger to the entire health of a woman.

"The World Health Organisation determines health as the state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity," says Prof Karanja.

"By telling women that abortion in Kenya is illegal, the press is driving women to death by scaring them from approaching trained health care professionals and driving them to quacks," he says.

"The law does not support abortion on request or demand," says Dr Carol Odula Obonyo, a gynaecologist and obstetrician. "We also do not support abortion as a family planning method. In cases where a doctor is performing multiple abortions, the counselling aspect is missing. Counselling is performed so that the doctor can apply preventive measures so that the woman can avoid having another unplanned pregnancy. That is, inform the woman about family planning methods and put her on a contraceptive by the time she lives the abortion clinic. "

She adds that doctors cannot turn a woman away even in the case of a serial abortion, stating that although she may seek help from another doctor, often times the women turn to quacks to abort the pregnancy.

Dr John Nyamu, the CEO of Reproductive Health Servises, agrees with Dr Obonyo. He says that if in such a situation, the doctor must find out why the woman is having so many abortions through counselling and put her on a family planning method on the first day of the abortion, adding that the entire process of terminating the pregnancy must be done in a hospital.

"What many women do not know is that they can conceive within ten days of a medical abortion where a woman takes a pill to terminate the pregnancy and seven to eight days if it is a surgical abortion. So if a doctor does not take these measures, multiple pregnancies and therefore multiple abortions will occur. "

Dr Peter Igogo who works with Ipas, an organisation dedicated to ending unsafe abortions worldwide, says: "Some 40 per cent of unplanned pregnancies are among the under 25s, but there are no youth-friendly services in public hospitals so the issue of lack information and contraceptives amongst the youth is not addressed."

Dr Nyamu says the reason for the high rates of unsafe abortion in the country is the fact that the government has allocated very little to health.

"We spend 12 per cent on salaries and only 6.5 per cent on health. As a result, one in every four women or 25 per cent have unmet needs of family planning." He adds that over 50 per cent of pregnancies in Kenya are unplanned but most women do not have access to affordable reproductive health services and most public hospitals do not have the funding to stock an adequate supply of contraceptives to prevent the high rates of unplanned pregnancies.

Elizabeth Okumu who works with Trust For Indigenous Culture and Health, a pro-choice organisation, says the rise in unplanned pregnancies is also due to the myths that surround the use of contraceptives. "If I use the injection, it will make me cold or sexually frigid, I'll get backaches, it is a western way of killing our eggs and so on," Okumu says listing a few of the myths.

Information about women who have had abortions sourced from Classic 105. The programme aired last month.

Copyright © 2013 The Star. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.