27 June 2014

Malawi: Chiefs and Faith Leaders in North Differ On Legalization of Abortion

Mzuzu — Chiefs in Northern Region have rallied behind calls for the country to legalize abortion, observing that scores of girls and women die from unsafe abortion as the country's laws do not allow it unless the life of a mother is in danger.

Inkosi Mabilabo of Mzimba said abortion should be legalized in the country, saying people in towns acquire safe abortion in hospitals but the poor from the village suffer after undergoing unsafe abortions due to restrictions.

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.

"Let's face the fact, in Malawi people acquire safe abortion whether the law prohibits or not. People are acquiring safe abortion, so let us not hide the fact, if we criminalize abortion, we are not moving forward," said the Ngoni Chief.

Inkosi Mabilabo was speaking Thursday at Mzuzu Hotel during a Regional Consultative Workshop on the Review of the Law on Abortion.

The workshop, which was organized by Malawi Law Commission, drew traditional leaders, faith leaders, medical practitioners, academicians and journalists from the region.

Mabilabo said by forbidding abortion, the country's law is only restricting people from the villages who have little or no financial resources to access safe abortion. He said their counterparts in towns access it.

Echoing Mabilabo's sentiments, Traditional Authority Mkumbira of Nkhata Bay said the country should legalize abortion if women are to stop going for one which is not safe and leads to loss of lives or barrenness.

He observed that legalizing abortion would do justice to women in the country as they would be going for the safer one, as opposed to the current trend where most girls seek unsafe abortion which contributes to maternal deaths.

"Let's face facts, our young women and girls go for unsafe abortion, so, definitely, we need to find a way that girls should be aborting safely by reviewing abortion laws," he said.

However, Reverend Brown Khonje of CCAP Synod of Livingstonia had a contrary view, saying abortion should not be legalized in the country as it is a 'sin'.

He could not be bent by the fact that most delegates at the workshop spoke in favour of legalizing abortion. He stressed that if abortion is legalized, Livingstonia Synod will not be party to the legalization.

His counterpart Lifa Binali of Muslim Association of Malawi also made it clear that Islam does not support the proposal to legalize abortion, saying it is against Islam.

Taking from several speakers who contributed to the discussion, the pendulum seemed to sway towards legalization of abortion.

The forum was one of a series of workshops Malawi Law Commission has organized to give stakeholders chance for their input on abortion law which is currently under review.

According to Commissioner Getrude Lynn Hiwa (of Malawi Law Commission), the commission wants to solicit views on the matter though there are still opposing voices on whether abortion should be legalized.

She said the commission has also conducted study tours to other countries like Ethiopia, Zambia and Mauritius who she said have changed their laws on abortion.

Unsafe abortion contributes to 17 per cent of maternal deaths, according to Commissioner Hiwa. Through the consultations, the country is expected to decide whether abortion should be legalized or not.

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