Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika has introduced THE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTHCARE BILL, 2019 which seeks to provide women with autonomy when making decisions regarding reproductive health.
Part Five of the bill, entitled “Termination of pregnancy”, states: “A pregnancy may be terminated by a trained health professional where, in [that person’s] opinion, there is need for emergency treatment, the pregnancy would endanger the life or health of the mother or there is a substantial risk that the fetus would suffer from a severe physical or mental abnormality that is incompatible with life outside the womb.”
The role of the doctor/nurse/clinical officer is to offer “non-directive counselling before and after the termination of the pregnancy”.
If a healthcare provider refuses to help in the abortion process, he/she should refer to the pregnant woman to a professional with no such objection. Failure to do so risks a three-year prison term and a fine of one million shillings.
The Bill has attracted criticism from all quarters, especially from religious leaders.
Among those who opposed the bill is Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa who chairs the Catholic Parliamentarians caucus, and the Kenyan Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Catholic bishops echoed Wamalwa’s sentiments, and noted that the Church’s teaching on the practice has never changed.
Purporting to reduce the increasing cases of teenage pregnancies in Kenya, the true agenda behind the bill – the bishops said in their 23 June letter – is to fall in line with measures that guarantee all citizens access to affordable contraception, comprehensive sex education in schools and access to “safe abortion services”.
In the thought-provoking letter, Bishop Philip Anyolo, the chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the proposed legislation was against the fundamental premise of Christianity, the 2010 Constitution, and the moral fabrics of the Kenyan society.
“We cannot remain silent on issues that concern life. We are called by our faith and our African cultural background to protect the life of the unborn,” wrote Anyolo. “The life of the unborn is human life and its termination is homicide.”
The Kenyan constitution currently permits abortion when a woman’s life or health is in danger and emergency treatment is necessary, but the wording of the current bill broadens the permission.
Thousands of women in Kenya are treated each year for complications after unsafe abortions – a survey last year put the figure in 2012 at 120,000.
For Kihika, such deaths could be avoided if autonomous decision making is incorporated in healthcare management.
By incorporating the idea of personal liberty into the arguments for supporting abortion, Kihika implies giving the woman the right to choose what happens to her body. The idea of personal liberty criticizes harsh anti-abortion laws which violate mothers’ right to access a procedure that may guarantee them their right to their health.
In 2014, Judge Nicholas Ombija of the High Court sentenced a nurse to death after being found guilty of carrying out an abortion five years ago on a woman who later bled to death.
The Bill is currently in the second reading phase in Kenyan parliament’s upper house.