Nairobi, Kenya – The Kenya Medical Association (KMA) estimates that nearly 465,000 Kenyan women undergo abortions each year, based on data collected in 2012. With annual population increase, analyst say the number might be 500,000 or more.
Considering these heartbreaking statistics, the issue of abortion in Kenya is mired in confusion and contention and has been so for the past six years, with various on either aisle of the abortion debate standing their grounds.
On 15 December 2016, the Nairobi’s High Court is scheduled to watch between both groups represented by their lawyers in the abortion lawsuit.
The out of the case will determine whether hundreds of thousands of women each year are committing criminal acts, or should be permitted to carry out abortion.
The Kenyan government and the people of Kenya passed a new constitution in 2010. Praised internationally as a progressive document for adhering to the principles of gender equality in parliament; freedom of media; and establishment of an independent Human Rights and Equality Commission to investigate human rights abuses, the constitution set the ground for the current abortion debate and lawsuit, especially when much of what appeared to have been included in the constitution met stiffed resistance and debates.
Anti-abortion rights advocates in the country expressed graved concerns and fear.
In 2008, the World Health Organization said Eastern and Middle Africa had the highest global rates of unsafe abortions, at 36 per 1,000 reproductive-aged women.
Reproductive rights advocates filed a petition against the Ministry of Health and the country’s Attorney General last year, contending a lack of guidelines and policy is putting the health – and lives – of women in danger.
Josephine Mongare, the head of Kenya’s Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) filed the petition, said the interpretation of “health” is wide – such that it requires specificity as to whether it includes emotional or mental health – and what constitutes a “trained health professional” needs guidance.
“This is what the law has not defined and the doctor must make those decisions,” she said. Unlike other jurisdictions with similar laws, there are no further laws, guidelines, or policies in place to expand on the succinct constitutional passage.
In 2012, the Kenyan Ministry of Health put out guidelines to help doctors determine whether they could legally perform an abortion. After a massive public reaction in the predominately Christian nation, the ministry withdrawn the guidelines.
“Who has given these individuals the right to decide who should die?” said Father Raphael Wanjohi, country director of the Kenyan chapter of the American Christian anti-abortion rights organization Human Life International.
“Human life is sacred, that’s what we hold, right from conception until natural death. There is no room for saying so and so should be eliminated or that right should be waived away,” he said.
All quarters of the society must decide the issue of abortion, he argued, and it is the role of the church to safeguard human life.
Mongare said that any doctor who performs an abortion assumes a great deal of legal risk, which makes most reluctant to perform the procedure. This, she added, prompts women to turn to dangerous back-alley abortions and witchdoctors.
“People have to look for backstreet medical institutions, those who will not be held accountable by anyone. It’s a statement of fact that women die when abortions are done by unqualified people,” she said.
As he abortion fight continues, the world and Africa in general are watching to see the outcome of the Kenyan ruling.
Some commentators say anti-abortion and anti gay rights groups from the United States are funneling resources and support to groups in Africa to oppose gays and a woman’s right to abortion.