KAMPALA – Alliance of Women Advocating for Change (AWAC), a Civil Society Organistion that works with female sex workers has challenged the government to loosen up the abortion laws to enable women and girls to access safe abortion services at any point needed.
AWAC had joined the rest of the world to commemorate International Women’s Day. They celebrated the day with less-privileged women and girls of Katanga suburb, one of the slum areas of Kampala.
The CSO notes that despite the restrictive laws, abortion is still happening and unsafe abortion practices remain one of the top most contributor to maternal death in Uganda, impeding the achievement of universal health coverage and quality of maternal health care.
Ms. Resty Kyomukama Magezi, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and Gender specialist at AWAC says that unsafe abortion contributes to maternal mortality but unfortunately, only the poor are suffering since those economically empowered are able to access the service with very little obstacles.
“We want to touch on women who die due to unsafe abortion. This is something that is avoidable. No one should die because of that. It’s only because of lack of information. Women should be knowing better options for abortion.”
“Restrictions don’t mean that we are going to abolish abortion, it happens anyways. Thousands of women die in Uganda alone due to unsafe abortion even in presence of restrictive laws,” she added.
Kyomukama says that the government loses $14 million to unsafe abortion-related complications and it’s high time that money is diverted onto something better like educating women on using safe measures.
She says that although the law allows women at risk of losing life, cases of incest, and rape to access safe abortion, women don’t have this information but also even the health workers fear giving services even in such circumstances because they fear losing their jobs.
She noted that they are not promoting abortion but rather free access to services that will allow a woman to choose when to have a child, where, and with whom.
“No one should be forced to have a child with a person they don’t want,” she said.
Ms. Macklean Kyomya – Executive Director – AWAC says that unsafe abortion remains one of the leading causes of maternal deaths around the world, despite being almost entirely preventable.
According to her, procuring unsafe abortion has immediate and long-term health risks for women and girls and the community at large.
Unsafe abortion has complications like life-long injuries, severe disability, heavy bleeding, damage to internal organs, or losing the ability to become pregnant in future.
Ms. Kyomya notes that barriers to safe abortion access are affecting the marginalised and poor communities since they are less likely to be able to access private healthcare.
“Very many women have died as a result of procuring unsafe abortion, and yet we have different options within the facility or the clinics but then many community members do not know or never get such information.”
“Every time a sex worker or an adolescent girl in a slum like Katanga gets pregnant, the first thing they think of is talking to a fellow either peer-mate or a community person and the information they get sometimes is never the right information,” she added.
Ms. Kyomya says that access to safe abortion enables women and sex workers, to be independent and own their bodies.
She says that there is a need to bust the stigma and open spaces for women to talk about these issues openly, and for mothers to talk about the issues with their children.
“Let them (children) know that this is how you get pregnant. Let us open up about prevention.”
This year’s Women’s Day celebrated under the theme “Digital: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality,” is focused on recognizing and celebrating the women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education.
What law says
In Uganda, abortion remains generally illegal. The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (1995), Article 22(2) states:
No person has the right to terminate the life of an unborn child except as may be authorised by law.
The Penal Code Act (Cap. 120), as amended through the Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 2007 (Act No. 8 of 2007), criminalizes abortion in Sections 141-143, 212 and 224
- Attempts to procure abortion.
Any person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means, commits a felony and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.
- Procuring miscarriage.
Any woman who, being with child, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, unlawfully administers to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means, or permits any such things or means to be administered to or used on her, commits a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.
- Supplying drugs, etc. to procure abortion.
Any person who unlawfully supplies to or procures for any person anything, knowing that it is intended to be unlawfully used to procure the miscarriage of a woman, whether she is or is not with child, commits a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years.
- Killing unborn child.
Any person who, when a woman is about to be delivered of a child, prevents the child from being born alive by any act or omission of such a nature that if the child had been born alive and had then died, he or she would be deemed to have unlawfully killed the child, commits a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life.
- Surgical operation.
A person is not criminally responsible for performing in good faith and with reasonable care and skill a surgical operation upon any person for his or her benefit, or upon an unborn child for the preservation of the mother’s life, if the performance of the operation is reasonable, having regard to the patient’s state at the time, and to all the circumstances of the case.
According to statistics, unsafe abortion makes up for about 18% of Maternal mortality in Uganda.
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