KENYA – Statement by 12 civil society organisations on abortion stigma in Kenya

We the undersigned 12 civil society organizations want to sound the alarm regarding women and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health services and information, including on abortion.

We are specifically concerned about irresponsible billboards with misleading information on abortion that recently were posted in Nairobi. The messages on the billboards will fuel the stigma that surrounds abortion. Every day seven women and girls die from unsafe abortion in Kenya, yet these deaths are entirely preventable. The messaging in these billboards coupled with the misguided actions taken to ban the provision of abortion services by the Marie Stopes Kenya make it necessary for us to intervene.

Abortion is a reproductive health service that women and girls may require at some point in their lives. Consequently, Kenyan women deserve the right to information and the right to access those services. It is disheartening to see some sectors of the Kenya society mislead the country on the vital understanding of abortion care as a necessary and critical part of the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare.

The misleading messages on the billboards will fuel abortion stigma, which is a negative attribute ascribed to women who seek to end a pregnancy. Stigma and shame can affect pregnant persons seeking abortion care and their ability to seek and receive support. Stigma also affects providers, who sometimes refuse to treat women and girls for fear of prosecution and social exclusion.

We remind Kenyans that our Constitution recognizes that there are circumstances that necessitate women to have abortion services. Consequently, women and girls may seek abortion services when they have suffered a miscarriage, when they have an ectopic pregnancy, when the fetus cannot survive outside the mother’s womb and when they suffer sexual violence. If we allow fundamentalists to message abortion as murder, women and girls in the foregoing circumstances may not come out to seek this necessary health service exposing them to the risk of losing their lives.

We therefore condemn the billboards in question and the message contained in them for seeking to shame women, without providing the necessary context and public health reality of what these services provide; and for seeking to shame women, without acknowledging that even in a restrictive legal framework abortion is a health service. We cannot continue to lose women due to preventable deaths.

We are therefore calling upon the government to ensure that there is an environment that allows women to access abortion services by:

i. Enacting and implementing laws and guidelines that will provide clarity to health providers and women and girls on when to offer abortion services.

ii. Proactively disseminating accurate information on abortion and access to abortion services to the public.

iii. Taking leadership to address abortion stigma by engaging communities, including through faith-based organizations.

Join us and stand up for the rights of Kenyan women and girls who because of stigma, lack of clear laws and guidelines, lack of balanced information are ashamed about having to seek abortion services and unable to access safe abortion services.

SOURCE: Women’s Link Worldwide, 23 March 2019