KAMPALA – Women and girls’ rights activists have asked Ugandan government for a full scale legalization of abortion in the predominantly Catholic country.
Abortion is illegal in Uganda, and carries a prison sentence, except in instances if a mother’s health is at risk. Even so, access to the legal procedure is limited, especially in more conservative hospitals and areas where the Catholic Church’s influence is more pronounced and doctors abstain from providing the procedure on moral or religious grounds.
Speaking at the sidelines of She Decides Uganda Hangout held in Kampala, Patrick Mwesigye, the Founder and Executive Director of the Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum (UYAHF) urged Ugandan government to create a supportive legal and policy environment that enhances access to safe abortion services especially for adolescents.
Mwesigye whose organization works to empower and create awareness among young women and girls on good safe motherhood practices including antenatal care, health facility deliveries, family planning and contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancies, space pregnancy among other reproductive health services says legalization of abortion will empower girls and young women to decide on their future especially instance of rape and unintended pregnancies.
Mwesigye, the national coordinator and She Decides global champion, a movement that works to bring together diverse people to Stand Up, Speak Out in collective action to set the terms of debate, and framing of the discussion, about their bodies and health says that young girls need to have the freedom to make decide on their bodies regardless of age.
“Pregnancy should be by choice not by chance,” Mwesigye said, noting that adolescents should be in position to prevent pregnancy either through contraceptives or safe abortion.
“We believe that safe abortion should be made accessible to all women and girls who choose to have it,” he said citing instances of rape, defilement and incest.
“These are things that are happening in our country. We have heard of fathers raping their own daughters, brothers and cousins rape their own siblings and because we have limitations for safe abortion, people opt for unsafe abortion using rudimentary tools and practices, exposing them to abortion related complications such hemorrhage.
Mwesigye explains that abortion contributes about 28% to the maternal mortality and very many adolescents and young women are victims but if safe abortion was legal, it couldn’t be this worse.
Several Ugandan Members of Parliament are split over possible decriminalization of abortion, citing moral grounds.
Ms. Faith Kyateka the Head of Communications and Policy at Marie Stopes Uganda said that legalizing abortion is a question of public health.
She has repeatedly expressed his support of decriminalisation and legalisation, noting that the country lives in hypocrisy when it comes to abortion.
Illegality that is seldom prosecuted pushes women to abort in secrecy, she said. The hypocrisy, Kyateka says, is that if a woman is wealthy, she can find a way to get a safe abortion. If a woman is poor, she at much greater risk.
At the She Decides Uganda Hangout partners amplified their voices, highlighting their own story, commitments, actions and progress towards Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) gender equality and bodily autonomy.