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SOAWR Petitions President Paul Kagame over Abortion

The Solidarity for African Women’s Rights Coalition (SOAWR), a pan African coalition of 40 organizations in 20 countries, has appealed to President Paul Kagame on safe abortion law reform in Rwanda. A letter, a copy of which The Sunday Times has seen and addressed to the president states that cases such as rape and incest are rarely reported due to societal stigma and therefore rarely reach the courts. “The condition of seeking safe abortion services through obtaining a court order followed by approval from two doctors will make it hard to obtain medical abortions,” the letter, dated May 10 reads in part. In addition, Article 165 of the Penal Code allows only doctors to perform safe abortions under the prescribed conditions. The rights group says there is a shortage of doctors in Rwanda, the law should therefore allow for mid-level providers such as nurses and midwives to provide these services as well. Women in sub-Saharan Africa have a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy and childbirth as compared to a 1 in 4000 risk in developed countries, according to the letter. “Almost all the causes of maternal deaths in Africa are preventable, including from unsafe abortion. Research shows that unsafe abortion contributes about 14 per cent of maternal deaths in Africa. This means that everyday almost 100 women and girls die from unsafe abortions, and almost 60 per cent of these deaths are women and girls under age 25,” the group explains. According to SOAWR, restrictive abortion laws do not reduce incidences of abortion, but rather put women’s lives at risk when they result into unsafe or “back alley” abortions. The coalition called upon the President to remove the pre-conditions in Articles 164 and 165 of the Penal Code before signing it into law, in order to decrease the number of Rwandese women and girls dying or hospitalized daily from the tragedy of unsafe abortions, and to ensure that Rwanda is in compliance with the Protocol. SOAWR is one of the many organizations that have so far appealed to the President on the issues of the abortion law reforms either for or against. The others include Civil Society organisations and different religious denominations. According to the draft penal code, article 165 stipulates that there is no criminal liability for a woman who causes her own abortion and a medical doctor who helps a woman to abort provided that the four conditions are met. The conditions include; when a woman is pregnant as a result of rape, forced marriage, incest in the second degree and when continuation of pregnancy jeopardizes the health of the unborn baby or that of the pregnant woman. The penalty for abortion without being under the above exceptions is imprisonment and paying fines. The years of imprisonment however vary depending on a number of circumstances. Members of the Chamber of Deputies recently passed the draft Penal Code, with the majority voting in favor of an article that permits abortion under special circumstances. The abortion law reform continues to stir up a heated debate among the public and different organisations.