Residents of Nyalenda in Kisumu County are still recovering from a very traumatic incident where a 16 year old girl was found lying on the corridor of their home half dead after procuring unsafe abortion.
On that fateful day Elizabeth (not her real name) was found vomiting and bleeding profusely from her genitals by her mother who screamed for help.
Elizabeth was rushed to the hospital and eventually was able to receive post-abortion care. However, this came rather too late because effects of the unsafe abortion left her without no womb. They had to remove her womb because the infection had damaged it completely. She later died in the hospital while under going treatment.
Elizabeth’s case is just one that is just a drop in the ocean of such unsafe abortion cases reported in Kisumu County.
According to the African Population and Health Research Centre, Unsafe abortion remains one of the five leading causes of maternal morbidity and mortality in Kenya with close to half a million women undergoing unsafe abortions yearly (464,690). More than half of all abortions are performed unsafely, with herbs, coat hangers, spoons, knitting needles and harmful pharmaceuticals.
With the population increase, the study also indicates that 40-45% of the pregnancies in Kenya are unplanned
The study further shows that of the country’s eight regions, Nyanza — where Elizabeth lives recorded the second highest number of abortion cases at 36,842 with rift valley leading at 38,687.
Majority of the women who procure unsafe abortion are young and poor and end up with serious health complications or dead.
Lack of information and comprehensive sexuality education, failure to access quality and affordable contraceptives of their choice, punitive abortion laws and lack of safe abortion services are some of the factors that push women to seek unsafe abortion services.
The deaths and injuries caused by unsafe abortion can be prevented and must be prevented. It is time for the Ministry of Health to take decisive action to protect the health, lives, families, and future of Kenyan women before more women are needlessly harmed by unsafe abortion and its punitive abortion laws and policies.
Kenya did sign and ratify Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa that among other things provides and expands grounds for safe abortion. Article 2 of the Kenyan constitution states that the general rules of international law shall form part of the law of Kenya. I call upon the government of Kenya to lift its reservations on international laws that champion for protection of women’s reproductive health and rights by authorizing safe abortion.
There is also need for the government to offer age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education to all children in and out of school. Comprehensive sexuality education that would significantly contribute to prevention of unintended and unplanned pregnancies is lacking in schools and homes, thus exposing vulnerable girls and women to unwanted pregnancies and complications arising from unsafe abortion. Parents and guardians need to be at the forefront to complement the work of teachers and other organizations on sexuality education.
Punitive abortion laws also needs to be reviewed and amended. When abortion is illegal, the risks increase for women. Research around the world shows that when governments restrict abortion, women still have abortions. They just have more dangerous ones. According to a UN report, the average unsafe abortion rate was more than four times greater in countries with restrictive abortion policies than in countries with liberal abortion policies.
Contraceptive services that are acceptable, appropriate and user-friendly should also be available at all time and accessible to women and girls regardless of their status in the society.
The media and other stakeholders should develop and come up with effective awareness programs on contraceptives, comprehensive sexuality education, and safe abortion, among others.
Lastly both county and the national governments should increase budgetary allocation for contraceptives, post abortion care, safe abortion, comprehensive sexuality education and for continuous training of health workers and their provision of services.
Denying a woman access to the critical health care she needs can lead to devastating consequences in her life, her family, her community, and Kenyan society as a whole.
Safe abortion is a woman right. A woman has a right to decide whether to keep or terminate a pregnancy and denying her this right one would be violating her human right. It’s time for Kenya to fully respect women’s rights. Pregnant women and girls need to be able to make decisions about abortion, without the threat of criminal penalties.