Namibia: Making Abortion Safe and Legal

opinion

The abortion debate post-independence was started by Dr Libertina Amathila, the then minister of health. During this debate, she highlighted the statistics of girls and women that had lost lives due to unsafe abortions and the actual number of women and girls that had proffered an abortion. This motion was denied.

Thereafter, the motion was taken up by Dr Nickey Iiyambo and the motion was denied. The Ombudsman Advocate John Walters has spoken out about the effects of illegal abortion, Dr Richard Kamwi, the former minister of health has spoken out about unsafe abortion, the president of Namibia, Hage Geingob, has as well spoken out against unsafe abortion and has indicated the need to legalise abortion.

Of all the attempts to have this topic debated, the motion was denied on the basis of morality. The Council of Churches of Namibia has played a crucial role in opposing the legalisation of abortion. These are the same sentiments shared by the honorable minister of gender Doreen Sioka, who on 15 June 2020 announced that the talks of abortion couldn't be entertained in Namibia because abortion is immoral. This I submit honorable minister represents a conflict of interest between your personal beliefs and those of 50% or more of the population who are women.

Here I choose to advocate for a girl child who is in a remote village, pregnant, alone and no one to talk to. I am advocating for a woman who has found out that she is pregnant after being raped by her husband and wants to retain the dignity of her husband because of her other children; advocating for a young woman who is impregnated by a church elder and is pressured to abort because of the reputation of her church; for a girl whose only source of information on pregnancy is Google. I am advocating for a girl and woman who despite having taken contraceptive and or used a condom fell pregnant. Not a single contraceptive method is 100% effective, and it is not always that contraceptives are available, hence, not all pregnancies are wanted.

These people that I am advocating for are girls and women in our houses, churches, workplaces, neighbours. They are our sisters, our daughters, friends, mothers, nieces impregnated by our sons, brothers, fathers, uncles and husbands. We talk to them daily but they are unable to talk to us about their thoughts of abortion, being pregnant and not wanting to keep the pregnancy. They are scared to ask and get correct information because they know it is illegal and believe that even asking questions about pregnancy termination might get them arrested.

The girls and women I advocate for, resort to concoctions and herbs to terminate the pregnancy. They have made up their minds, they do not want to carry the pregnancy to term and they will do anything. They will drink anything, they will use any herb, and they will call their friends who are not medically trained to perform a c-section on them or to induce labour to terminate the pregnancy. They are willing to risk their own lives, to terminate a pregnancy no matter how dangerous their method. These are not made up examples, these are examples that make weekly news headlines, plus many others whose stories we never heard and will never hear.

I am speaking to Doreen Sioka, and all those who are opposing the petition to legalise abortion. And I am saying this. I understand your position, I understand that as individuals we stand by our morals and values and I respect this. But I am asking you humbly, to look at legalising abortion as not a moral topic, but a women's right to access to health. Evidence has shown that access to abortion does not increase the number of abortions but reduces complications, including deaths among women and baby dumping.

The reality is that women are the only ones tasked with preventing pregnancy and are held accountable for being pregnant. The Namibian newspaper on 28 May 2020 reported that the country has not had contraceptive supply since 2019, and that such supply severely decreased since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, NBC news ran a story that showed women queuing up as early as 03h00 for antenatal services and being turned away because only women with problems in pregnancy were being attended to.

Namibia has placed maternal and newborn health on its top agenda and has not and is not prioritising contraception, family planning and abortion as part of its sexual and reproductive health. Namibia will not win this fight if full access to sexual and reproductive health and services is not prioritized and especially during a humanitarian crisis. As a midwife when I urge the government to provide access to safe abortion I am not looking at the rightfulness or wrongfulness of the act of abortion. I am focusing on:

Allowing girls and women to access health care facilities to receive counselling and information about pregnancy and to speak openly about their thoughts and choice of wanting an abortion;

Allowing girls and women to receive the correct information to allow them to make informed decisions about abortion;

To get safe legal abortion, and safe post abortion care including contraceptive counselling;

To receive further counselling and support to continue leading a meaningful life.

Denying women access to safe abortion violates their right to health and costs many women and girls their lives. This right guarantees people the enjoyment of the highest level of physical, mental, and social wellbeing which includes what it means for each woman to be well, an approach that recognises the importance of women's perception and knowledge about themselves and what they may or may not assume or bear. This right does not only protect people's autonomy to make decisions regarding their health, but ensures they have access to the full range of facilities, goods, services, and conditions that are necessary to execute those decisions and attain the highest level of health possible.

To the parliamentarians of Namibia, when the debate opens, I urge you to bear in mind that the Namibian constitution declared Namibia as a secular state. Notwithstanding that it is estimated that at least 99% of Namibians are Christians, Namibia remains a secular state and the debate of abortion should be taken from that point and as a public health concern to save the lives of women and neonates and afford women the right to health and control over their own bodies.

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