MADAGASCAR – The national debate on abortion law reform has resumed

Mireille Rabenoro, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Madagascar, reports that the Commission has organised a conference to resume the national debate on abortion law reform. In 2017, in a bill on family planning, a clause that would have allowed health workers to provide abortions legally was voted down, even though the rest of the bill was passed. The failure to change the law did not stop Malagasi women with unwanted pregnancies from having abortions, however. As Rabenoro explains: “75,000 women abort each year in Madagascar, ±575 of whom die because of complications or severe bleeding, according to the Ministry of Public Health. They abort clandestinely and often it is only after complications that their families bring them to the hospital.” Even this is not the full picture, however, because it does not include what is happening in remote areas where girls and women do not find their way to a hospital.

The conference was called by the National Human Rights Commission, with NGOs like the Institut Pasteur. It took place in a large hall at the University of Antananarivo. The Chancellor of the University and Mireille Rabenoro opened the conference with speeches on why it was held at the University (because it is illegal, but the University has franchise), and spoke on the theme “Safe abortion is healthcare”.

During the discussion, a 17-year-old girl expressed strong criticism that she wished the subject had been discussed at home. The Institut Pasteur team presented the results of a study on the medical consequences of unsafe abortions. A representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights made a presentation on how access to safe abortion should be a human right. And Mireille Rabenoro talked about how the 575 Malagasy women who die after an unsafe abortion are denied the most fundamental of all human rights – the right to life. A short video made by law students was shown, in which they explained why abortion should be made legal – or not.

A few members of Parliament attended, but did not take part in the discussions.

In the face of the usual opposition, that abortion is wrong, Mireille Rabenoro put forward the idea that the ultimate aim was zero abortions, that is, all children who are born would be desired by their parents. However, in the meantime, it would be immoral to let down the women who for one reason or another seek an abortion, and to allow them to die an unnecessary death, sometimes leaving orphans behind.

SOURCE: L’Express de MadagascarPHOTO of Mireille Rabenoro 1 October 2019 ; E-mails from Mireille Rabenoro, 15/17 October 2019

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