10 April 2014

Uganda: Women Increasingly Aborting Behind Their Husbands' Backs

Last week, it was reported that Mercy Ampaire had died from complications arising out of getting an abortion.

It was also reported that this abortion had not been sanctioned by her husband, nor her relatives!

This raised questions; why would a young, happily-married woman seek an abortion?

Isn't it young, unmarried girls afraid of the stigma that comes with having a child out of wedlock who are the ones to ordinarily abort? Even police and medical officers agree; it is not seemingly happily-married young women, who should be excited about getting children, to be caught on this surgeon's table.

A Kampala doctor who has interacted with married women who have aborted, says there are a number of reasons why married women abort. But the most recurrent one is the desire to get rid of pregnancies arising out of infidelity.

"Increasingly, married women with enough financial resources are getting involved in abortion, because increased promiscuity in marriage is leading to pregnancies from other men," the doctor says.

Lydia (not real name) espouses the woman the above doctor talks about.

Because her marriage was a 'headache', she got herself a 'Panadol'. The Panadol got her pregnant. She could not have the baby because her husband would have known that the baby was not his; he had been refraining from performing his conjugal duties.

But not all married women abort because their pregnancies have arisen out of infidelity. The above-mentioned doctor says that financial problems, failed contraception and infections, particularly HIV, have also resulted in married women aborting.

"Some women do not want people to see that they are having unprotected sex yet they are HIV-positive," the doctor says, adding that some HIV-positive women abort because they do not think they have too long to live.

"They think that when they die, no one will take care of their children," he says.

Others do not love their husbands and simply refuse to have their children. Clare (not real name) is one such woman. Seeking a secure financial position, she got married to a rich man, but she was not about to have his babies. For each of her five conceptions, she sought a quick abortion.

Husbands forcing wives to abort:

Sometimes, husbands force their wives to abort as Mark Sekitto's story shows. Sekitto, a businessman who has been married for the past five years, says he forced his wife to abort their fourth baby, but now regrets it.

"When I told my wife to abort, she cried but I did not have the money to raise another child. I gave her Shs 400,000 to abort but she refused," Sekitto says. "I later brought the doctor home to carry out the abortion."

After one year, when finances looked up, Sekitto wanted his wife to conceive but this was not to be.

"Doctors told me that my wife's uterus had been damaged and she cannot give birth again," Sekitto says.

Asked why he did not use a contraceptive if he did not want that fourth child, Sekitto says having protected sex would have indicated that he did not trust his wife. Sekitto is not in isolation in making his wife abort. Martin (not real name) bullied and mistreated his wife when she became pregnant again after three boys.

He repeatedly asked her to terminate the pregnancy, but she refused, bringing her marriage to its knees. Today, their three-year-old daughter from that pregnancy is ironically the apple of Martin's eye!

Bernard Lukyamuzi, a businessman, has been married for the past ten years and says he cannot advise his wife to abort although he has seen friends who have forced their wives into the act. He says, some of them argue that they have many children and don't have the money to look after the unplanned child.

Some young men do not have any children but because they do not have money, they force their wives to abort. Magidu Nkolabatala, a detective on the gender-based violence desk at Katwe police station has interacted with a young couple in such a situation.

He says late last year, an angry and grieving young woman stormed Katwe police station demanding that a certain medical officer be arrested.

"This woman had been asked to abort by her husband but she did not want to. The husband then lied to her that he was taking her for antenatal care and when they got to the clinic, he took the attendant aside and paid him to [terminate the pregnancy]," Nkolabatala relates.

The doctor gave the woman a tablet, saying it was part of her antenatal care, and sent the young couple home. The young woman miscarried later that day after a lot of bleeding.

"The woman wanted the doctor who had given her the medicine to be charged, but because she did not want her husband charged, we could not charge the doctor," Nkolabatala says.

He reveals that the case was further hindered by the fact that the woman's abortion had been incomplete.

"Something [uterine lining] had stayed inside her and her stomach would swell. She did not have money to [wash out] her uterus so she struck a deal with the doctor to clean it and she drops the case in return," Nkolabatala says.

On healing, the young woman did not pursue the case any further. Henry Mukalazi, a craftsman, says he cannot tell his wife to abort even if he were not ready for the baby and says men who do it do so without any serious reasons. He also says they are the same men who refuse their wives to use contraceptives.

"If I accepted to have unprotected sex with my wife, why should I bother her to go for an abortion? Really, this is being unfair to her," Mukalazi says.


While it has previously been said that abortions can result in psychological distress, married women who abort at their own initiative are mostly relieved after a successful abortion.

"Many married women who abort [at their own will] do not suffer psychological side effects," the aforementioned doctor says.

However, women who abort at their husband's request experience psychological damage. Augustine Ssekibuule, a marriage counsellor at Holy Trinity church in Kamwokya, says women who are forced to abort suffer such psychological distress that it takes many sessions of counselling before they fully get over the ordeal.

Sekitto's wife still grieves over her "lost" baby and her inability to conceive again. Sekitto also suffers some distress and is a prisoner to guilt. He says even if his wife cheated on him, he would never leave her because he has caused her so much pain.

Ssekibuule says men are careless in seeking even pre-abortion counselling for their wives, further causing their wives pain.

"Women come for advice sometimes when they want to abort but you will never see their husbands even if you told them to come as a couple," Ssekibuule says.

He also says that men are careless about contraceptive usage. They will enjoy unprotected sex but just let a pregnancy be announced and they will be fast in advising their wives about abortion. Some husbands will not tell their wives to abort directly; the way they treat women during such times is a clear indication that the woman should terminate her pregnancy, Ssekibuule says.


Ssekibuule urges all married men who are not in position to look after their unplanned babies to either abstain from sex or use natural family planning methods such as using moon beads to time ovulation, to avoid abortion and its consequences.

He insists that both spouses should always agree on whether they should have a child or not before engaging in matters sexual.

"Sexual intercourse is not the only way to express to your wife that you love her; caring about her, buying gifts, among others, are ways you can express love," Ssekibuule says.

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