The new cold war on access to safe abortion in Kenya: global problems

  • opinion by Stephanie Musho, Ritah Anindo Obonyo (nairobi)
  • InterPress service

Unfortunately, the Fatuma story is common to girls and women in Kenya. In fact, at least 7 of them die every day from complications resulting from an unsafe abortion. Worse still, is that with current trends – where 700 girls between the ages of 10 and 19 get pregnant every day; the harrowing statistics on abortions are likely to be worse. If Fatuma had known where she could have access to safe abortion services, she would not have died.

Although Kenya’s Constitution provides for three cases in which safe abortion is allowed, the right to choose if and when to get pregnant and terminate pregnancies continues to be one of the most controversial debates in the world. In Kenya, significant progress has been made in promoting reproductive justice with the judicial arm of the government that promoted the law. An example is the Malindi case(Petition E009 of 2020) who reiterated that abortion is a fundamental right provided for by the Constitution.

In addition, the court has outlawed arbitrary arrests of skilled health workers and people seeking a safe abortion within constitutional boundaries. However, these gains are under attack in what Kenyans are calling the new cold war. That is, the struggle between supporters of gender and reproductive justice, against members opposed to choice.

In recent years, a number of events have occurred that have affected both the social, political and legal environment for access to life-saving safe abortion services. First, what is the arbitrary withdrawal of the National standards and guidelines for reducing maternal mortality and morbidity in 2013. A year after they were reinstated by the High Court, the Ministry of Health suspended all training of medical abortion providers.

In July this year, the Ministry of Health launched the National reproductive health policy (2022-2032)an unjust policy that did not follow due process in its enactment, including the need for representative public participation as required by Article 118 of the Constitution. The policy also excludes a portion of the population from accessing reproductive health as it enforces parental consent and does not consider deaths and complications resulting from an unsafe abortion as a public health problem despite statistics.

Also, consider the protracted attack on women’s health rights by opposition groups led by the far-right extremist organization CitizenGO. They work to deny human rights in the guise of Christianity. They pay hungry and unsuspecting young Kenyans to create trending hashtags that intentionally amplify lies and half-truths about sexual and reproductive health and rights issues, especially abortion, LGBTI + rights, and sex education.

They continue to influence public opinion; and regressive laws and policies around the world, including in Kenya. Ironically, the Madrid-based organization is heavily funded by institutions and individuals from the north of the world, but argues that sexual and reproductive health and rights are a foreign agenda for Africa – and must be rejected.

CitizenGO has in the past conducted smear campaigns against reproductive justice. These included the Honorable Susan Kihika (former Senator – and now Nakuru County Governor) for sponsoring the 2019 Reproductive Health Bill in the Senate. reproductive issues such as assisted reproduction, which continue to function in a vacuum.

Furthermore, they bullied Mrs Esther Passaris on social media for throwing a Christmas party for prostitutes. Recently, the Hon. Mukulia, the sponsor of the East African Community’s Sexual Reproductive Health Bill, called for her dismissal from the East African Legislative Assembly.

Critics could make religious arguments to counter safe abortion and the rights of gender minorities. However, it is worth noting that these beliefs are subjective. Furthermore, Kenya is a secular state that operates the doctrine of the separation of church and state. This principle creates distance between the two; recognizing that morality and religion are subjective.

Furthermore, the Constitution manages a solid Bill of Rights which is legally binding – and not mere suggestions. In addition to expanding the right to safe abortion in Article 26 (4), it explicitly provides for the right to the highest attainable level of reproductive health in Article 43. It also protects the right to privacy and human dignity. CitizenGO and these organizations must therefore operate within the laws of the Republic.

While the results of these struggles are the denial of information and services for marginalized groups; this struggle is not just about access to services and information. These are unequal power relations. There are people who are giving large sums for initiatives that work to curtail human rights and freedoms; permeating government, media and other key sectors against progress.

It is therefore terrible that as advocates of sexual and reproductive health and rights, we invest time and resources studying the ever-changing strategies and tactics that opponents use to undermine these rights and rework strategies for the ongoing war. We must prioritize the building of the movement and the resilience of reproductive rights. Until then, girls and women in Kenya – and beyond, will continue to suffer preventable deaths.

Stepanie is a human rights attorney and Senior Fellow at the Aspen Institute. Ritah is the youth project coordinator at Reproductive Health Network, Kenya.

© Inter Press Service (2022) – All rights reservedOriginal source: InterPress Service