A section of Members of Parliament from Uganda are preparing to petition Heads of State from the East Africa Community to stop a proposed law by the regional Parliamentary body to legalize abortion.
The contentious bill is titled the EAC Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Bill, 2017 and is sponsored by Dr. Odette Nyiramilimo, a Rwandan Physician and EALA legislator. The text of the bill states that it seeks to provide a legal framework for matters relating to sexual and reproductive health, to protect children, adolescents and young persons from sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation, to provide for assisted reproductive technology.
Section 15 (1) of the Bill states that Member States should legalize abortion, provided the pregnancy endangers the woman’s health and life.
“The partner states shall safeguard and give effect to the reproductive rights of a woman by permitting the termination of pregnancy when in opinion of a trained health professional,” states the proposed law.
But the proposed law is facing stiff opposition including from former Ethics Minister Dr. James Nsaba Buturo. Nsaba Buturo who has mobilised his colleagues to form a group Parliamentary Forum on Ethics and Integrity with among other causes to engage and convince the leadership of all member states from the region not to legalize abortion.
Buturo told The Sunrise Newspaper that the bill seeks to legalize abortion under the guise of advocating for women’s rights want to use the East African Community to legalize abortion among other ills.
The lawmakers also fear that if the bill is passed into law, it will bind all the East African Nations to provide contraceptives and allow abortion of unborn children. As a result they have vowed to block it.
Article 22, section 2 of the Constitution of Uganda states that: “No person has a right to terminate the life of an unborn child except as may be authorized by law.” Kenya’s constitution also prevents abortion except if it provided by another law.
But Buturo, also the MP for Bufumbira East Constituency, says that because the Bill is before the East African Legislative Assembly, the group will also engage the Ugandan Representatives to block the passing of the draft law.
“We want to engage Heads of State to alert them to dangers that are coming. So we have that practical way of really killing it from source before it becomes law, ” Buturo added: “The other way is to mobilize the public; they must show their resentment that will put pressure on individual MPs to think twice before they support the bill in case they intend to. we have the advantage majority of our people do not want that nonsense.”
Manjiya County Member of Parliament in Bududa District, John Baptist Nambeshe says that advocating for such rights also undermines the rights of the unborn baby which qualifies to be on the list of crimes against Humanity under the International Criminal Court jurisdiction.
“If you were a former fetus a former baby would you promote the death of those colleagues who are in that world about top avail in where you are, so as a former fetus as a former baby, am opposed to abortion in fact, am of the view that abortion should be included among crimes against Humanity, ICC should capture it. Actually abortion in my view is a genocide, Genocide is the Killing of innocent people belonging to a particular race or generation”-Nambeshe.
Proponents of safe abortion have always argued that the number of women dying due to unsafe abortion is on the rise with East Africa sharing a disproportionate share of deaths due to unsafe abortion. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), East and Central Africa have the highest rates of pregnancy related deaths in the world (36 per 1,000 reproductive-aged women).
However Dr. Buturo dismisses these figures saying that: “We can’t accept the situation where two lives are lost adding that it’s not good to say let me lose one and save the other.”
Bututo insists that the intention must be to save both the mother and baby stressing that where there are unique circumstances, you take a tougher decision whether to allow the mother to live or the child to live although those are exceptional circumstances.
“Having pregnancy is not a must, the problem is today everybody is having sex all over the place, there is no decency, no respect for sex, so we have to educate people in that aspect. Especially young girls who think it is fashionable to have sex, they don’t go beyond to say by-the-way this sex am having can bring about a baby,” Buturo noted.
He further called for educating of people, however he quickly adds that even this may not be 100% successful but some people will be saved.
“One of the ways of support such girls that have unexpected pregnancies is to empower the state or relatives to take the child away or care.”
Quoting the some statistics, Joy Asasiira an activist at the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) says that unsafe abortion is a major challenge facing not only women but also the health system in Uganda.
In 2013, an estimated 314,304 induced abortions occurred, a 7% increase on the 2003 estimate of 294,000.
Given that 2.3 million pregnancies occurred in 2013, these statistics imply that more than one in 10 pregnancies end in abortion.
An estimated 14% of an unintended pregnancies end in abortion or a rate of 39 per 1,000 women aged 15-49 years. This is slightly higher than the regional average, which has been estimated at 34 per 1,000 women (2010-14) for the East African regional as a whole.
In response to the MPs’ concern, Asasiira says that Uganda is a signatory to a number of regional and international treaty documents and frame works like the Convention on Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, the Maputo Protocol that recognize sexual reproductive rights as Human Rights, and as such member states that are signatories to these instruments are obliged to respect, protect and fulfill the sexual reproductive rights of their citizens.
She says that Uganda is not exempt from these obligations, unfortunately, many a times morality arguments have been used to circumvent these obligations by the Ugandan government.
“I commend the East African Community for drafting a bill that seeks to create a framework to regulate some of the more ignored issues that majorly affect the women and girls causing preventable death and illness”-Asasiira
Reacting to MP Nambeshe’s proposal for the International Criminal Court to consider abortion as a crime against Humanity, Asasiira said that Abortion is a health service that is only required by women.
“Criminalizing a health service that only required by women is discriminatory. Furthermore, the fact that Uganda’s law recognizes that there are exceptional circumstances under which abortion may be accessed negates any legitimacy to such claims”-Asasiira noted.