LESOTHO – ‘Let the people decide’?

The people, according to this report, may soon have their say on a proposed law that seeks to legalise abortion. There was a discussion on 30 March between 26 members of Parliament and a group of church leaders who have been vehemently opposed to the legalisation of abortion, at a forum organised by the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAFAIDS) in conjunction with the SADC Parliamentary Forum. Here are some of the arguments that emerged:

Chairman of the Parliamentary Social Cluster, Fako Moshoeshoe, said it was “important to talk about safe abortion so that girls and young women don’t resort to illicit clinics… Unsafe abortion is practised in Lesotho and lives are being lost… We are not saying girls should do the abortion. But we have to do what is practically possible… There is no time to waste and we have to make a referendum regarding abortion”.

Another MP, ‘Mathato Phafoli, agreed the question had to be taken to the public and the people should be told why abortion had to be legalised. The deputy leader of the Movement for Economic Change, Tšepang Tšita-Mosena, said “women are usually blamed for having abortions. The perpetrators usually show off with their money and entice small girls to sleep around with them in exchange for the money… It is critical if their behaviour could be addressed with the same passion… You (fellow MPs) are afraid to address the root cause of the problem on the ground. People are hiding behind Christianity. We should not only blame the girl but also the man.”

MP Thabang Mafojane said the issue of legalising abortion should be rushed to the community to get their opinions. He said it is a sad scenario for him in his constituency to always be calling the police to come and investigate cases of abandoned babies. He said if abortion was legalised, this could be minimised.

Lesotho Congress for Democracy MP Maisaka Monyolo said the public should be asked to decide if they want abortion legalised. “It is not easy for the public to understand this… There should be radio and TV programmes to teach the people about this.”

Also at the forum were young women in their late teens and early 20s, who argued that abortion should be legalised.

The search for a photo to accompany this report led to a May 2018 news report that at the Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital in Maseru, treatment needed for complications of illegal abortions had reached crisis levels, with more than 40 women being admitted with life-threatening complications within only a few days, and that the hospital constantly had to use beds in other units to accommodate these patients, who often needed emergency treatment. Another article, dated 18 months later, reported that access to contraception and emergency contraception was often difficult or expensive in Lesotho, and that young educated women in urban centres were buying misoprostol under the table for abortions, but in rural areas only unsafe methods were available.

SOURCE: MENAFN, by Majara Molupe, 30 March 2021 ; Sunday Express, by Pascalinah Kabi, 22 May 2018 ; Gender Links, by Mohalenyane Phakela + Photo by Lesotho Times, 10 December 2019