Panafrican News Agency

Rwanda: Abortion law hits hurdle as activists seek removal of restrictions (A feature by Aimable Twahirwa, PANA correspondent)

Kigali, Rwanda (PANA) - Rwanda is among the few African countries where abortion law came into effect since 2012, but activists are advocating for the removal of some restrictions in the legal framework.

The move runs parallel to a recent report from the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), a Ugandan-based Non-Government Organization, recommending the de-criminalization of abortion in a certain number of cases, notably rape and incest, within all members states of the East African Community (EAC), including Rwanda.

“Until today there has not been a publicity campaign in the local languages for the women explaining this new law and its instruments. Most important is that both legislators and policy makers should understand that when women die during childbirth it constitutes another violation of their rights,” said Ben Twinomugisha, a senior researcher who advocates for maternal and child rights in the East African region.

"This existing level of penalty (against abortion) means that women who abort do so in unsafe conditions, with physical and psychological risks," he told PANA in Kigali.

According to some controversial provisions of the law, for a woman to terminate unwanted pregnancy, apart from the court’s order that must be granted, there is also an exception with two physicians confirming that her health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy.

Meanwhile, Rwanda is getting ready for an unprecedented debate on the amendment of abortion law, of which date approval has not yet been decided.

Activists say they want the country’s parliament to expand legal grounds for abortion in a country where there are 25 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 annually, despite the existing legal framework.

Mukeshimana, a young Rwandan woman who requested to be identified by only one name, is one of several thousands of Rwanda women who have had illegal and unsafe abortions because in their country terminating a pregnancy is punishable with up to five years in prison when it is performed without the court’s order, regardless of the circumstances.

Some young Rwandan women choose to travel to neighouring countries to buy drugs to interrupt an unwanted pregnancy, because health risks of abortions recorded by the Rwandan medical services across the country are directly related to how and who performs the abortion.

According to the latest estimates by the Rwandan ministry of Health, about half of all abortions are provided by trained health professionals—physicians (19%), nurses or medical assistants (16%) and trained midwives (14%). But many procedures do not take place in health facilities and result in complications.

Other mitigating instances include situations where the future mother is HIV-positive, where the mother's life and health are in danger, where abortion is recommended by at least two doctors, where the foetus is malformed and where the child runs the risk of being born with a serious handicap.

However, Ignatienne Nyirarukundo, one member of Rwandan parliament, notes that there are still a few issues that need to be sorted to create a favorable environment for young women to have access to safe abortions in Rwanda.

Official statistics show that the treatment rate for abortion complications is highest in the capital city Kigali, with 18 cases per 1,000 women, compared with rates of 4–9 cases per 1,000 in rural areas.

“Parliament is currently assessing if the legalization of therapeutic abortion is still really needed (in Rwanda) in case of rape, risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects,” Nyirarukundo said.
-0- PANA TWA/MA 30March2015