Mzuzu — Coalition for Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA) has called for review of Malawi's abortion law to prevent deaths due to unsafe abortions.
Section 149 of the country's Penal Code prohibits abortion and condemns any person who administers abortion but permits the act only when the life of a mother is in danger.
COPUA's National Coordinator, Chrispine Sibande, says the law is outdated as it was passed by the colonialists long time ago and needs to be reviewed to face the current realities.
Sibande was speaking on Thursday during a Regional Journalist Capacity Building workshop for Journalist in the northern Region held at Mzuzu Hotel.
He said the current law has failed to address the issue of abortion adequately in light of changes that have occurred in recent past.
Sibande said since the laws of the country do not liberalize safe abortion but permit it only when the life of a mother is in danger, many women are forced to seek backstreet abortion.
He said the restriction does not reduce the incidences of abortion as 77,000 women have unsafe abortion in the country every year. He said the majority of them are in the age group of 15 to 29.
"It is important to review the law in accordance with recommendations from the world Health Organization but also various committees and institutions from the United Nations but also in line with the recommendations from African Union that is through the African protocol on women rights and the Maputo Plan of action which Malawi is also a signatory," he said.
The Maputo protocol which Malawi is a signatory has an article that subscribes for liberalization not only when the pregnancy is life threatening to the mother but also for pregnancies that are conceived as a result of rape and incest.
Sibande observed that the irony with Malawi's current situation is that those who procure unsafe abortion go to hospitals for post abortion care to treat complications resulting from the abortion.
The coordinator said all the international recommendations stipulate that women need to access abortion to the extent that they should not die.
"We have a situation in Malawi where many women are dying, lose their fertility because of the law.
He said the only alternative is to change the law so that a woman who has made a decision to procure an abortion should be able to be assisted by doctors, nurses and people in the medical profession, rather than seeking unsafe abortion where women use Surf, Cassava plant and Bahaman grass among others to induce abortion.
Section 149 of the penal code says anyone administering abortion is liable to imprisonment for 14 years while section 150 indicates that any woman who solicits an abortion is liable to 7 years of confinement.
Ministry of Health Head of Reproductive Health Unit Lastone Chikoti said Millennium Development Goal number five which calls for a reduction of maternal deaths cannot be achieved without addressing the problem of unsafe abortion.
He said unsafe abortion contributes to 17 per cent of maternal mortality in the country.
Chikoti said with the current law, the hospitals only provide post abortion care treatment which is expensive compared to safe abortion.
A survey conducted by Ministry of health in conjunction with reproductive rights organizations in 2010 found out that in 2009 alone 70,000 women had an illegal abortion.
The survey also showed that about 70 per cent of maternal deaths in Malawi are the result of unsafe abortion.
According to WHO unsafe abortion remains one of the leading causes of maternal mortality accounting for 47, 000 of the 358, 000 annual pregnancy related deaths worldwide.