Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs has finally published the findings of the Special Law Commission on the Review of Abortion Laws.
Not only does it officially bring the proposed amendments of abortion laws to the attention of Cabinet and Parliament, it also escalates the July 2015 report which contains the draft Termination of Pregnancy Bill whose existence government denied when some Christians marched against liberalisation of colonial abortion laws last December.
According to assistant chief law reform officer Edda Chavula, the step puts the law reform firmly on the path to be deliberated by Cabinet.
If adopted, the Justice Ministry will produce a final Bill to be tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Health.
Pro-choice campaigners say the publishing of the report is a step towards saving women and girls from life-threatening complications of clandestine abortions.
“We are excited by the crucial step government has finally taken to look into the recommendations of the special law commission empanelled to review restrictive abortion laws. We hope the Bill will be tabled in Parliament without further delays, for existing laws are needlessly putting girls and women at risk of dying of unsafe abortions,” said Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (Copua) acting chairperson Simon Sikwese.
Section 193 makes abortion legal only to save the life of a pregnant woman.
After nationwide consultations, the special commission snubbed demands to allow women to terminate pregnancy on demand.
However, it settled for relaxation of the colonial law by expanding grounds for terminating a pregnancy.
If passed by Parliament, women will have choice to safely remove (1) pregnancies resulting from defilement, rape and incest, (2) if the foetus is so malformed and no longer viable, (3) to prevent physical and mental well-being of the woman.
The suggested exceptions have catalysed a backlash, with opponents fearing that the conditions provide for unlimited powers to terminate pregnancies willy-nilly.
But the newly-published report contains guidelines prescribing stringent circumstances under which health workers can terminate a pregnancy.
At the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine (CoM), gynaecologist Dr Chisale Mhango, one of the six researchers whose study established that 141 000 were terminated in 2015, backed the calls for relaxation of abortion laws.
“As doctors and researchers, we know for a fact that religion has not stopped any woman from seeking abortion when she decides to. Even restrictive laws have failed to prevent her. They only push women and girls to seek the procedure clandestinely and often unsafely,” n