Kenyan Charities Urge Govt to Quit U.S.-Led Anti-Abortion Pact

United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo participates in a signing ceremony of the Geneva Consensus Declaration with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II, at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., on October 22, 2020.

Nairobi — Critics say the Geneva Consensus Declaration is a bid to weaken global efforts to safeguard women's sexual and reproductive health and rights

An alliance of Kenyan charities urged the government on Tuesday to withdraw from a U.S.-led international accord that critics say aims to limit abortion access for millions of women and girls around the world.

Thirty-three nations, including Kenya, signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration (GCD) - which was co-sponsored by the United States, Brazil, Uganda, Egypt, Hungary and Indonesia - on Oct. 22.

The U.S. Department for Health says the GCD seeks better healthcare for women and the preservation of human life, while also strengthening the family as the foundational unit of society and protecting each nation's sovereignty.

It should be a country's sovereign right to formulate its own abortion law without external pressure, according to the health department's website.

The pact is not legally binding, but charities working to promote women's sexual and reproductive health and rights in Kenya said it was a deliberate attempt to weaken international efforts to safeguard women's rights.

"The document totally undermines the mandate and ability of the United Nations to develop harmonized policies that advance desirable human rights documents," said Linda Kroeger, programme officer at the Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network (KELIN).

"By demanding states be allowed to fashion their own abortion laws, it will encourage states notorious for human rights violations to fashion punitive laws against women."

KELIN is one of more than 20 charities that have written to Kenya's Foreign Ministry demanding Nairobi withdraw from the GCD, saying it could push more women and girls to undergo unsafe abortions.

A foreign ministry spokeswoman declined to comment immediately on the charities' letter.

Kenya's 2010 constitution broadened access to abortion, permitting it when a woman's life is at risk or in case of an emergency, and guaranteeing the right to life and reproductive health services.

Campaigners say disregard for the provisions - along with conservative anti-abortion attitudes that stigmatise abortion in the largely Christian country - have driven thousands of women to unregulated clinics run by untrained medical practitioners.

Almost half a million abortions, most of which were unsafe, were conducted in Kenya in 2012 with one in four women and girls suffering complications such as high fever, sepsis, shock and organ failure, according to Health Ministry data.

"Our youth are suffering and dying from preventable deaths. The minister of foreign affairs must withdraw from this declaration," said Jedidah Maina, executive director of the charity, Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health

Other nations that have signed the GCD include Bahrain, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Libya, Pakistan, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla; Editing by Helen Popper. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, and covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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