Legalise abortion: Doctors

HARARE - Women with unwanted pregnancies must be able to undergo safe abortions in a move that could save countless lives in a country with high maternal death rate, Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) has said.

The Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1977 (Chapter 15:10) that bans abortion in the southern African nation must be immediately repealed, the doctors said.

“We therefore call upon the Government of Zimbabwe to repeal the Termination of Pregnancy Act and remove other barriers to accessing safe reproductive health services for women and allow women to take responsibility of their reproductive health,” the ZADHR said in a statement.

It said the repeal of this law is a huge opportunity to save countless lives from preventable deaths.

Around one in 190 women in Zimbabwe die during or shortly after childbirth, the World Health Organisation has said.

One-third of these deaths are the result of complications from unsafe abortions, often carried out by untrained people in unhygienic and dangerous surroundings, campaigners say.

“As ZADHR we contend that once a woman decides to have an abortion, she is most likely going to go through the process regardless of it being illegal,” rights doctors said in a statement.

“However, if it is illegal, she is more likely to pursue it in an unsafe manner and end up with fatal complications. Therefore, forcing a woman to undergo a life-threatening unsafe abortion violates her right to life.”

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) prescribes that access to safe and affordable abortion facilities is part of the sexual and reproductive health rights of women. The  Constitution of Zimbabwe in Section 76 guaranties access to sexual and reproductive health services and right to life (Section 48).

“Zimbabwe therefore needs to be progressive in this regard through enactment of legislation that is responsive to the evidence on the ground and allow women to make choices.

“This we believe will go a long way in protecting and promoting the sexual and reproductive rights of the women and adolescent girls, failure of which is a violation of women’s rights to life, to health, to reproductive self-determination and right to the enjoyment of the benefits of scientific progress among others,” the doctors said.

Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa was unreachable for comment. But Health parliamentary portfolio committee chairperson Ruth Labode said the issue of pro-choice legislation regarding abortion should be brought to the table.

“We are having a lot of young girls who are dying due to lack of access to safe abortion services, where they turn to backdoor methods and end up bleeding to death,” she told the Daily News.

The repeal of the Termination of Pregnancy Act could save the country money.

Government spends a substantial amount a year on staff and medical supplies to treat patients who had had botched abortions.

“We were told that 16 percent of the blood used in hospitals is used in post-abortion case,” Labode said.

The repeal of the law could also prove significant for victims of sexual violence and rape, by reducing the stigma and the trauma they suffer in a country where memories of 2008 politically-motivated rape remain strong.

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