NAMIBIA – A true story of unsafe abortion & a petition to make abortion safe and legal

“N was in Grade 10 at the time (in 2010) and her parents at the village expected her to finish school and make something of her life. Due to these expectations from her loved ones and fears of stigma, N, who was living with an uncle at the time, desperately started thinking of ways to safely terminate her four-month pregnancy. “When I found out I was pregnant, I felt bad. I was in school and felt shy to return to school,” she told The Namibian.

“She was impregnated by a family friend, whom she called uncle. He was married and her pregnancy would have caused problems at the time. He refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy, so her only option was to have an abortion, to avoid problems for everyone, particularly herself.

“She visited pharmacies on several occasions seeking pills that would be strong enough to induce an abortion, under the pretext that she was sick. She was given antibiotics and was told to take them all at once and expect severe side effects. The overdose triggered an abortion, and caused her to collapse from profuse bleeding. She ended up in hospital and confessed to the doctor that she had taken an overdose. Three months after the abortion, she was experiencing dizziness and loss of appetite and had lost a lot of weight. Psychologically, she has not recovered in many ways because the experience was so painful.”

On 11 June 2020, a young woman named Beauty Boois called on Namibians to support a petition to make abortion legal in Namibia and to change a 1975 law imposed by South Africa whose own abortion law changed dramatically in 1996. In launching the petition, she said that the right to access legal abortion in Namibia should be accompanied by education relating to sexual health and reproductive rights to prevent unwanted pregnancies, baby dumping and encourage safe, legal abortions. She further urged the government to ensure that women and young girls in Namibia are aware of their right to sexual and reproductive health, control of their health, lives and bodies, and to achieve gender equality. In response, the Deputy Health Minister Ester Muinjanguesaid this is a topic she will bring up in parliament. The country’s President Hage Geingob last year acknowledged that government would have to legalise abortion to prevent needless deaths due to backstreet abortions.

However, this is not the first time these commitments have been made. It is because of individual stories like that of N above that an unnamed midwife wrote a moving opinion piece on New Era Live a few weeks after this petition came out, calling on members of the government to make abortion safe and legal in Namibia. She wrote:

“The abortion debate post-independence was started by Dr Libertina Amathila, the then minister of health. During this debate, she highlighted the statistics of girls and women that had lost lives due to unsafe abortions and the actual number of women and girls that had proffered an abortion. This motion was denied.

“Thereafter, the motion was taken up by Dr Nickey Iiyambo and the motion was denied. The Ombudsman Advocate John Walters has spoken out about the effects of illegal abortion. Dr Richard Kamwi, the former minister of health, has spoken out about unsafe abortion. The president of Namibia, Hage Geingob, has as well spoken out against unsafe abortion and has indicated the need to legalise abortion.

“Of all the attempts to have this topic debated, the motion was denied on the basis of morality. The Council of Churches of Namibia has played a crucial role in opposing the legalisation of abortion. These are the same sentiments shared by the Honorable Minister of Gender Doreen Sioka, who on 15 June 2020 announced that talk of abortion could not be entertained in Namibia because abortion is immoral. This I submit, Honorable Minister, represents a conflict of interest between your personal beliefs and those of 50% or more of the population who are women.

“Here I choose to advocate for a girl child who is in a remote village, pregnant, alone and no one to talk to. I am advocating for a woman who has found out that she is pregnant after being raped by her husband and wants to retain the dignity of her husband because of her other children; advocating for a young woman who is impregnated by a church elder and is pressured to abort because of the reputation of her church; for a girl whose only source of information on pregnancy is Google. I am advocating for a girl and woman who despite having taken contraceptive and or used a condom fell pregnant. Not a single contraceptive method is 100% effective, and it is not always that contraceptives are available; hence, not all pregnancies are wanted…

“The Namibian newspaper on 28 May 2020 reported that the country has not had contraceptive supply since 2019, and that such supply severely decreased since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, NBC news ran a story that showed women queuing up as early as 03h00 for antenatal services and being turned away because only women with problems in pregnancy were being attended to….”

[This New Era Live article continues further. It’s worth reading the whole!]

SOURCES: The Namibian, by Okeri Ngutjinazo, 12 June 2020 ; The Namibian, by Yokany Oliveira, 1 July 2020 ; New Era Live, by Staff Reporter, 2 July 2020