The Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) and the Muslim Community have asked President Joyce Banda not to sign into law the newly passed Gender Equality Bill until the controversial issue of abortion, as one of the purported rights, is critically scrutinised and clarified.
However, the Malawi Law Society (MLS) has dismissed fears that certain sections of the Bill give women the right to abortion, observing that once passed, the law would be subject to the Penal Code that criminalises abortion in the country.
Section 19(1)(a) of the Bill states: “Every person has a right to adequate sexual and reproductive health, which includes the right to: (a). Access sexual and reproductive health services” whereas Section 19(2) provides that “subject to any other written law, every person has the right to choose whether or not to have a child.”
MCC public relations officer M’theto Lungu said in an interview that the council would also critically look at the Bill, but said the stand of Christian churches in the country is still against abortion.
He said: “It is our wish that the President would not assent to this Bill until this element of abortion is looked at critically and clarified.”
Parliament passed the Gender Equality Bill last Wednesday.
On his part, Sheikh Dinala Chabulika, national coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau, said on Friday the Ulama Council of Malawi, the Islamic Information Bureau and the entire Muslim Community express their concern on the ambiguity of the Gender Bill, especially where the Bill has not given a provision on what happens when a woman conceives accidentally and unwillingly.
“We want the Bill to come out clearly on this. Without this provision, we believe that the Bill legalises abortion which is a sin,” he said.
Catholic bishops also spoke against abortion in their pastoral letter released on Saturday.
A study by the Ministry of Health on abortion in Malawi titled Results of a Study of Incidence and Magnitude of Complications of Unsafe Abortion, 2010, found that 70 000 Malawian women have abortions every year and that there are 24 abortions for every 1 000 women aged between 15 and 44.
However, MLS secretary Felisah Kilembe said although Section 19(1) is providing “everyone with the right to adequate sexual and reproductive health which includes the right to access sexual and reproductive health services”, this does not include the right to abortion.