Namibia: COVID-19 Threatens Abortion Rights


Reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. It implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life, the capability to reproduce, and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so.

Moreover, it addresses the reproductive processes, functions and system at all stages of life.

The Covid-19 pandemic seems to continue negatively affecting the health sector as well as the health of Namibian women and girls.

This includes the freedom of family planning.

Family planning is defined as the practice of controlling the number of children one has and the intervals between their births, particularly by means of voluntary sterilisation and contraception.

Namibia is experiencing a critical shortage of contraceptives. This is reportedly due to the disruption in logistical arrangements because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This includes tablets, injectables as well as implantation devices imported mainly from South Africa. Contraceptives are provided at clinics, health centers as well as public hospitals countrywide.

According to the Abortion and Sterilisation Act of South Africa (1975), which Namibia adopted at independence in March 1990, abortion is regarded as a criminal offence.

It is only allowed in Namibia when the pregnancy endangers the woman's life or constitutes a serious threat to her physical health or a risk of permanent damage to her mental health; when there exists a serious risk of a physical or mental defect in the child so as to be irreparably seriously handicapped; as a consequence of rape or incest; or when the foetus has been conceived in consequence of illegitimate carnal intercourse and the woman is, owing to a permanent mental handicap or defect, unable to comprehend the implications of or bear the parental responsibility for the "fruit of coitus". Additional to the disheartening shortage of contraceptives, there has been an increase in the number of illegal/unsafe abortions.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health and Social Services in 2016 depict an alarming number of unsafe abortions, which was about 7 300 and could be 10 000 per year.

It is reported that about 27 women show up daily at health facilities seeking treatment due to complications of illegal abortions.

Furthermore, about 2 000 girls drop out of school every year due to teenage pregnancy.

Abortion issues have been the subject of intense debate among men, legal scholars, moralists, and men of religion as well as politicians.

The voices of women have drowned in this loud debate despite the fact that it is women whose bodies, mental health, physical health and lives that are directly concerned.

Gaining women's knowledge, perceptions as well as opinions is of course paramount.

Moreover, the relationship between abortion and contraception continues to be misunderstood. Abortion is not only a resort for unmarried women, the poor or teenage girls. Married women also use it to regulate fertility.

In conclusion, we do understand the question of morality and the biblical perspective on legalising abortions.

However, it is quite obvious that moral teachings and counselling on safe sex is not working, and although abortion is illegal it is still taking place in the society.

Many girls and women risk their lives in undertaking unsafe and illegal abortions and this is more a national health issue than a moral or political issue.

Several babies have been dumped and abandoned by their mothers for several reasons - the foster homes and orphanages are in a dilapidated state.

It is disappointing that the ministry of gender has rejected rights to legal and safe abortions in a country that has a shortage of contraceptives.

We appreciate the fact that the majority of Namibians are Christians, but unfortunately the churches seem to want us to live under the veil of ignorance when we truly have a serious health problem.

The world has changed; old laws should be amended too.

The right of an embryo or foetus to possibly reach full term should not outweigh the right of a woman to have full autonomy over her body and consequently to be in charge of her reproductive destiny, health and life.

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