A study found that all Malawians understand that the problem of unsafe abortion exists. Different stakeholders were interviewed, including religious leaders, chiefs, young people, politicians, parliamentarians – and all of them agreed that this problem exists. They did however raise the challenge that it was a difficult subject to discuss publicly.
Not long after the Malawi Council of Churches expressed optimism that the faith community in Malawi would endorse the safe abortion bill waiting to be tabled in the country’s Parliament, doctors in the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship in Malawi urged government to critically reassess the proposed bill and stop its passage through Parliament.
The bill proposes reform to ensure that women and girls are not dying of unsafe abortions complications. However the Chair of COPUA (Coalition to Prevent Unsafe Abortion) has noted that the new bill fails to provide enough grounds on which women and girls could seek safe abortion services.
In August 2015, political parties endorsed abortion law reforms in Malawi as currently abortion is illegal and is punishable by a maximum of 14 years in jail except in cases where the pregnancy threatens the life of a woman. The bill is currently at Cabinet level but Members of Parliament have openly asked civil society for more civic education on the issue, as politicians are shy, they say, about speaking of the bill in their constituencies.
The organisation’s President, Prof Frank Taulo, said their aim was to help to maintain high clinical and ethical standards and improving lives of Malawian women. Another objective is to encourage the highest standards of training in obstetrics and gynaecology at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
According to COPUA, women in Malawi seek abortions due to poverty and inability to support more children; the desire of young girls to remain in school; extra-marital pregnancy; partner insistence and parental insistence. Meanwhile, the United Methodist Church in Malawi has reversed its long-term stance that women should be allowed to have abortions, following a General Conference they attended in the USA.
The facts and figures surrounding preventable deaths as a result of unsafe abortion procedures in Malawi, have accounted for a shift in the stance of some of the country’s religious leaders, who now show support for the proposed abortion bill (Termination of Pregnancy Bill) and a call to review and reform Malawi’s restrictive abortion laws.
In Malawi a study has estimated that 80% of women who had unsafe abortions in the country were married. The study, carried out by the Coalition for Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA), found that a low uptake of contraception among married women was a driver behind unintended pregnancies and that 33,000 women are treated annually for abortion complications. COPUA is now on a countrywide tour for public health workers, asking to solicit views for input before the current abortion bill reaches Parliament.