As the National Assembly is set to debate, pass or reject a private member’s Bill to amend Abortion Law, faith groups yesterday strongly spoke against the intentions of the legislators.
Currently, under the abortion law in the country is only legal to save a woman’s life and obtaining an abortion for any other reason is punishable by seven to 14 years in prison.
During the current sitting of Parliament, the private member’s Bill is set to be tabled and is designed to amend the existing Abortion Law so that termination of ‘unwanted pregnancies’ can be legalised to girls or women that are raped, imbeciles, or persons that are enticed and fall pregnant, among other groups, according to chairperson of a Parliamentary Committee on Health, Mathews Ngwale.
The principle, Ngwale explained, is to liberalise Malawi’s abortion law by providing more exceptions under which an abortion could be legally obtained.
But the faith groups that include Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) and Public Affairs Committee (PAC), maintained their position that any life, be it of unborn or born baby, is sacred.
ECM secretary general (SG) the Reverend Henry Saindi said in an interview the Catholic Church maintains its stand that abortion is abortion and there are no exceptions to have it allowed.
The ECM SG said the Church was aware of the Parliament’s intentions and was strategising to engage legislators on the need to reject the Bill, warning that if their efforts at parliamentary level engagement don’t pay off, they would be compelled to engage President Lazarus Chakwera.
Saindi said ECM supported by EAM and other faith groups staged nationwide Life and Family marches on December 6 2016 where they petitioned Parliament to speak against abortion and homosexuality, stressing that their ‘no to abortion’ position remains intact.
“I know they’re trying to coin some phrases such as ‘safe abortion’, but what we’re saying is that abortion is abortion, regardless of how life came about, life is sacred.
“We are aware of the campaigns going around and plans to introduce this Bill now, but we’re also strategising to let our position known as a church. We say no to whatever is being proposed,” Saindi said.
The SG said the church offers counselling and will continue to offer that to people that fall pregnant when not ready for it.
EAM’s chairperson of ethics, peace and justice commission, the Reverend Zacc Kawalawala, said the position of his group to respect sanctity of life has not changed.
“Even before we talk of the church, life has to be protected. The UN, under the right of a child to life declaration, recognises that the child, born or unborn, needs care and protection,” Kawalala said.
He said doctors that are professional are already aware what to do when a pregnant woman is in danger to lose her life and there was no need to legalise abortion.
“A child becomes a child from conception. We speak for the voiceless; the voiceless is the unborn child.
“Every human being has inherent right to life, that’s why elsewhere authorities don’t carry a death penalty on a woman who’s pregnant because they’ve to protect that life of unborn child,” Kawalawala said.
He doubted whether legislators have consulted their chiefs and constituents.
PAC’s spokesperson Bishop Gilford Matonga said in an interview his group was not served with the private member’s Bill, but the general consensus or collective view was that the proposals are unacceptable.
“That [abortion] is not acceptable among the religious groups under PAC. I cannot intelligently comment because I haven’t seen that Bill, but what I know is that within PAC, termination of pregnancies is not accepted. We are not ready for any changes,” Matonga said.
Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) spokesperson Sheikh Dinala Chabulika said abortion is not acceptable in Islam, but only accepted in certain circumstances, for example when a woman’s life is in danger.
“If there’s potential danger that a woman would die if she continues carrying the pregnancy, doctors know how to protect that life that already exist,” Chabulika said.
But Ngwale, said they were not trying to bring a new law, but provide additional exceptions.
Ngwale said owing to high maternal mortality rate, Malawi Law Commission (MLC) conducted a research and later made recommendations to Ministry of Health on what could be done if the maternal rate could be reduced.
He said the recommendations included the proposed amendments to the existing Abortion Law.
“The current law only allows doctors to save the life of a woman in danger to lose her life. But we want further exceptions; we want to expand the grounds on the same law,” he said.
He said more women were dying because of unsafe abortion, arguing more lives, including those of school girls who resort to unsafe abortions, can be saved if this Bill is tabled and passed.
The legislator said girls that are raped are forced to carry pregnancies and live with trauma after the birth of these children they should have been allowed to abort.
“That baby always reminds that woman of hardships and trauma she underwent after being raped,” Ngwale said.
The MP argued another group to remember is those girls or women that get pregnancy out of incest, adding that as much as this is a criminal offence, it brings tension in the family.