Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Reporter—
Some members of the parliamentary portfolio committee on Health and Child Care are pushing for legislation to legalise abortion, amid revelations that 16 percent of maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions, half of which occur among adolescents. According to the 2016 national adolescent fertility study, nine percent of adolescents between 10 and 19 years have fallen pregnant before, the majority of whom were girls from rural areas.
Speaking during the parliamentarians’ advocacy workshop on HIV and Aids in Gweru recently, chairperson of the Health and Child Care portfolio committee Dr Ruth Labode, who is also legislator for Matabeleland North province, said given the above statistics, it was only fair to allow safe abortions in unwanted pregnancies.
Dr Labode said it was a fact that teenagers were engaging in unprotected sex, resulting in them falling pregnant and wanting to terminate the pregnancies using unsafe means since abortion was illegal in Zimbabwe.
“We cannot continue denying these young women access to safe abortions, yet we know they will still proceed to abort, whether it is allowed or not,” said Dr Labode.
She said the women used a number of methods to abort unwanted babies that ranged from traditional concoctions to logs.
“Complications of unsafe abortions include excessive bleeding and infections, which may all lead to hysterectomy (complete removal of the uterus) or death in worst case scenarios,” said Dr Labode.
“So, we can continue watching our women die from things that we know.”
Dr Labode criticised the Government policy, which provides only for post abortal care, saying as responsible leaders, they should not wait to offer corrective procedures when they could actually provide for safe abortion as was happening in other countries.
Gutu South legislator Dr Paul Chimedza said legalising abortion would increase the number of abortions.
Dr Chimedza, who is former deputy Minister of Health and Child Care, said the Termination of Pregnancy Act provided for abortion if the woman had been raped, a victim of incest, the pregnancy puts the mother of the child at risk or the viability of the foetus was not certain.
“Only women who fall pregnant under these circumstances are permitted by law to abort and if you are going to take that into Parliament, some of us are going to thwart it,” he said.
Ministry of Health and Child Care director for Family Health Dr Bernard Madzima said Government was concerned with increased numbers of teenage pregnancies, as well as maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions.
Dr Madzima said the decision to legalise abortion was beyond the Ministry’s control as it took all stakeholders, including traditional and religious communities.
Asked about experiences of other countries in the region that had since legalised abortion, Dr Madzima said statistics did not show much difference in the number of abortions before and after legalising it.
“Countries like South Africa, Zambia and Kenya have legalised abortion and there has not been much difference in the number of abortions pre and post that law,” he said.