The Malawi Parliament is sometimes run by emotions that are retrogressive and does not give a critical look at issues.
Its recent allergy to a private member’s motion to debate new grounds for safe abortion confirms this.
The way Parliament shunned the motion is irresponsible for a House solely convened to make laws that govern the nation and protect its people.
Lawmakers were supposed to discuss the Termination of Pregnancy Bill being championed by Chiradzulu West legislator Mathews Ngwale, leader of the Health Committee of Parliament.
Last September, debate over the Bill was postponed after an opinion poll by Nation Publications Limited revealed that 80 percent of the lawmakers would reject it while 18 percent were undecided and 1.4 percent supported it.
Ngwale was ordered by his Democratic Progressive Party to withdraw the Bill for political reasons.
However, Parliament was expected to discuss the motion in the just-ended sitting, but some self-righteous parliamentarians used every trick in their book not to debate it.
The handling of the Bill brings into question the independence of the house and the nature of the people inside it.
Instead of sticking to its primary role of making laws for all, Parliament has given in to religious pressure and cultural illusions that are divorced from its legal mandate.
The House needs to rise above religious creed and personal egos to formulate laws that solve Malawi’s socio-economic challenges.
Abortion is a public health issue and the Bill is based on statistics, not hearsay.
In Malawi, abortion is legal only if performed to save a woman’s life. Other attempts are punishable by seven to 14 years imprisonment.
The restrictive law has not stopped women and girls from terminating pregnancies. It only pushes them to seek clandestine and deadly abortions.
The Bill seeks to allow women to procure safe abortion when a pregnancy has resulted from rape, incest and defilement. One will also be allowed by law to abort a pregnancy with a severely malformed foetus and if it hurts the woman’s physical and mental well-being.
The lawmakers are snubbing the Bill using propaganda by religious groups that misrepresent the proposed grounds such as legalisation of abortion on demand. This is not true.
It is sad that some members of Parliament who are supposed to know better have not even read the Bill they oppose.
In democracy, Parliament is a catalyst for sustainable and inclusive development.
The one aspect missing in the lawmakers’ refusal to discuss the Bill is inclusion.
Parliament needs to create laws that will solve existing problems even when you the lawmakers feel that the law will not address your problem.
According to a study by reproductive health researchers at the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine and US-based Guttimacher Institute, 141 000 women in Malawi terminated pregnancies in 2015 and and 60 percent sought treatment for deadly complications.
A 2009 study by the Ministry of Health showed about 67 300 women and girls induced abortions under unsafe and clandestine conditions, accounting for six to 18 percent of the country’s high maternal mortality rates.
We cannot force girls and women to keep pregnancies resulting from rape, defilement and incest.
If we force them to keep the pregnancy, the child resulting from sexual violence will always bring tears and bad memories to those who would have preferred to terminate the pregnancy.
By passing the Bill, some sexually assaulted women and girls will have relief because the proposed law gives them choice to terminate the pregnancy.
If health facilities start offering safe abortion to victims of rape, defilement and incest, the number of maternal deaths from secret abortions provided by unskilled hands will be reduced.
If some think opening the law to the above incidents will open floodgates of abortions to all who need it, then it is up to the lawmakers to provide checks and balances.
Otherwise, refusing to table the Bill is sponsoring suicide faced by women who secretly terminate pregnancies outside health facilities.