It was reported on 17 March that Angola’s Parliament was scheduled to vote on a proposal to criminalise all abortions and imprison women who have abortions and people who perform them for up to 10 years. The change is part of wider reforms to the country’s criminal code, which dates back to 1886. The proposed revision allows no legal exceptions. The government had proposed amendments permitting abortion in cases of rape and if the woman’s health is in danger, but the parliament rejected these amendments. The current criminal code already outlawed all abortions but the punishment in the proposed revision is more harsh.
On 18 March, about 200 demonstrators protested against the bill under heavy police surveillance in the Angolan capital, Luanda. The protest was coordinated by the group Ondjango Feminista – see their gallery of photos here. Watch a short BBC News Africa video of the march here. The mostly women protesters chanted “Freedom for women,” “Prison will not solve anything” and “Let us decide”, and carried posters that said “Your decide, your life” before dispersing after about two hours. “The government or lawmakers have no right to decide whether we must have a child or not,” Lauranda Gouveia, a marcher, told AFP. “If this law is passed, women who get pregnant after rape will have the choice of trauma, prison or possible death after a clandestine abortion,” Sizaltia Cutaia, of the local Open Society activism group, said.
Public protests are rare in Angola and can often be targeted by Angola’s security forces, but this was a peaceful march and allowed by the authorities. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had called on the authorities to allow it to take place the day before.
The draft revised criminal code was made more stringent regarding abortion after lobbying by church leaders, and it has triggered public debate. The proposed changes on abortion were sharply criticised, including by Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of veteran President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who is reported to be the richest woman in Africa. Angola faces a major presidential election in August, as President dos Santos has announced he will not run again after 38 years in power.
The vote had been scheduled for 23 March, but the ruling MPLA party said the vote had been postponed.