Facts and figures lead more of Malawi’s religious leaders to support abortion law reform

Original story by Cynthia Okoroafor / Brian Ligomeka4 April 2015The 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. This includes some Presbyterian and Anglican clerics, who are backing the move.In July 2015, the Malawian government drafted the Termination of the Pregnancy Bill as part of its efforts to reduce the high rates of maternal mortality, of which unsafe abortion accounts for 17 percent, much to the chagrin of the Catholic Church and other religious denominations and groups. The provisions in the abortion bill decriminalise abortions by allowing for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies for reasons such as rape, fetal anomaly, incest, or when the woman’s health or life is at risk. Currently, abortion is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in jail in Malawi.Although the bill is yet to receive parliamentary approval, this move by the Malawian government was hailed by health experts and women in Malawi, and the country was termed a model to other African countries as it displayed an interest in women’s health. The bill also highlighted the fact that more African countries need to stop suppressing women’s rights by giving them the power to make the decisions as it affects reproduction.Although so many women lose their lives to complications arising from unsafe abortions each year, most of the religious leaders advocating against the bill were apparently previously unaware of this. A lack of knowledge in religious circles was blamed as a major reason why a majority of religious leaders assume an aggressive stance when it comes to the subject of abortion.”I am shocked to learn that many girls and women are admitted to our hospitals every year as a result of complications sustained during procurement of unsafe abortions,” lamented Prophet Amos Tchuma of the Faith of God Ministeries based in the northern Malawi city of Mzuzu. “Just imagine, some women use bicycle spokes, cassava sticks and poisonous substances to induce abortions just because we have a restrictive law.”Tchuma said he supports government’s move to review the outdated abortion law so that women can access safe abortion services in public hospitals. “Why should a schoolgirl, who has been raped, be jailed for terminating her unwanted pregnancy?” he asked.Tchuma says some religious leaders are opposing law reform due to their ignorance. “Lack of knowledge has caused a lot of… misinformation in religious circles. Religion has become a fertile ground for breeding fundamentalism and fanaticism because of lack of knowledge,” he told News24 in an interview.”Is it wrong to support efforts to save women’s lives?” he asks.SOURCES: Ventures Africa ; News24