Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) central committee has ordered a member of Parliament (MP) who was set to table the controversial Termination of Pregnancy Bill to withdraw it.
But the MP, Mathews Ngwale, who is chairperson of Parliamentary Health Committee, bluntly said in an interview yesterday he cannot withdraw the Bill which was already on the order paper.
Ngwale, who did not table the Bill until Parliament adjourned indefinitely on Friday, said he shelved his plan because legislators were arguing from a point of ignorance and were likely to shoot it down.
The Chiradzulu West legislator, who went to Parliament as an independent but later joined the DPP, said he would bring back the Bill next February so that he should have space to sensitise his colleagues.
He challenged that he cannot take instructions on what to do with the Bill because it is a Private Member’s Bill, and not a party or government Bill.
But DPP president Peter Mutharika in an exclusive interview on Friday with Nation Publications Limited’s Ephraim Munthali at his beachside retirement home in Mangochi, said the party, at its meeting of the central committee on Wednesday, resolved that the party’s chief whip should instruct Ngwale not to table the Bill.
“Dr. Ngwale was an independent MP for Chiradzulu then he became DPP and he introduced that Bill. The party does not support it and I am going on the record to say that DPP as a party is not supporting the Abortion Bill and that we are asking Dr. Ngwale to withdraw that Bill.
“We think he got involved in that Bill because he is chairman of the Health Committee of the House,” Mutharika said.
Asked why the party would take away the MP’s right to pursue a legislative position that he believes in and as it was also a private member’s Bill, the former president said Ngwale is a DPP MP.
“So, automatically people are going to say it is the DPP that is sponsoring this Bill. He first [needed to get] an okay from the party, which he did not and we cannot support him on that,” Mutharika said.
The DPP leader warned that if he does not withdraw it then it will be up to the party to decide as it might be a disciplinary issue.
“But we certainly don’t support the Bill and his decision to push it through Parliament,” he said.
Mutharika said the reason the party does not support this Bill is because they do not believe that abortion should be carried out in the way it is being proposed.
“We support [abortion] only when a woman’s life is in danger. It is a very difficult issue even in the US where the new Supreme Court nominee is facing a lot of questions about her stance on abortion and here we feel to preserve the life of the child, that is better, that let the child be born and maybe be put up for adoption.
“We also understand that if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, it is very difficult thing policy wise that the woman should be forced to continue with the pregnancy, but we believe that as much as possible termination should only be on medical grounds,” he said.
DPP chief whip Symon Vuwa Kaunda confirmed in an interview yesterday he was indeed sent by Mutharika to tell Ngwale to withdraw the Bill, adding he personally passed on the message to him at Parliament in Lilongwe.
Ngwale, however, denied receiving any instruction relating to the Bill.
But Kaunda insisted to have met Ngwale and given him the instructions, adding all DPP MPs have been advised to shoot down the Bill if he insists to bring it up.
He said the party also told Business Committee of Parliament, to which he is a member that it was not in support of the Bill.
“Why has he failed to bring the Bill? He knows the consequences, if he dares, DPP is going to disown it, and the party is also going to disown him. That is a very unpopular Bill and we do not want to be associated with it.
“Why is the Tonse Alliance not in the forefront? That is supposed to be a government Bill, but they know how sensitive that Bill is. This is politics. I told him in the face to withdraw it. How can a Bill be on the order paper for more than two months? Something is not adding up here and he must be careful,” he said.
Kaunda said Ngwale should learn from unpopular bills that have been passed and came back to haunt MPs that championed them.
“We do not want to be associated with bad bills. We are in opposition, we should not be responsible for bringing bad bills,” Kaunda said.
But Ngwale insisted no one would tell him what to do, arguing it is within his rights to table the Bill.
“I have no reason to withdraw it, but what I observed is that MPs did not understand and thought the issue is whether the abortion is bad or not. That is not the issue, the issue is about girls and women that are dying because they cannot access health facilities for safe abortion,” he argued.