Malawian civil society groups accuse religious leaders of hypocrisy in their opposition to abortion law reform

Prominent civil society organisations have responded to religious leaders who petitioned the Malawian Parliament in December 2016 against the proposed reforms on safe abortion, accusing them of double standards on the matter. The groups included the Malawi Human Rights Resource Center, NGO Gender Coordinating Network, Human Rights Consultative Committee, Center for Human Rights Rehabilitation and others. They also said they would publicly name and shame some religious leaders for their misdeeds, arguing that in fact they promote unsafe abortion.

Malawi is one of the many African countries discussing abortion law reform since the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights called for national laws on abortion to comply with its regional treaty agreements under the Maputo Protocol in January 2016. The Protocol states: “Protect the health of women by providing safe abortion services in case of sexual assault, rape, incest and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the fetus”.

Opposition to the proposed reform has become an issue of concern to many people, especially in the legal and medical professions, because it is both a public health issue and an issue of women’s rights under a treaty signed by Malawi, not an issue of ideology or morals. In Malawi, an estimated 70,000 women and girls terminate pregnancies every year, while 31,000 are treated for complications of unsafe abortion and 17% of pregnancy-related deaths are attributed to unsafe abortion.

Gender and rights advocate, Emma Kaliya, expressed widely shared concerns that the bill has not yet been tabled in the Parliament. She said Members of Parliament had agreed to one thing during meetings on the bill and then said different things in other forums. She said that MPs always say they love their voters but that cannot be true because they would not leave women in their constituencies to die because of archaic laws on abortion.

SOURCES: Malawi24, 17 February 2017 ; Maravi Post, by Lloyd Mbwana, 11 Feb 2017 ; AllAfrica, by Chisale Mhango, 31 January 2017 ; VISUAL