Termination of pregnancy has always been a divisive and emotional subject and we saw that very clearly during discussion of Article 26 of the constitution in Bomas of Kenya. Just so we’re clear on the legal side of things, “the Kenyan constitution does not allow abortion unless in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law“.
In Kenya, we’ve been through quite a bit of ups and downs trying to understand and assimilate the laws and requirements surrounding abortion. There is a lot of behind the scenes pushing and lobbying on these matters and we have come to a point where Government, through blanket directives, has been seen to interfere even with the cases that are permissible by law. I had documented this interference in an earlier blogpost.
These struggles have culminated into the filing of a petition in the High Court – petition No 266 that seeks to address wrongful interference into women’s reproductive health by contravention of some articles including Article 26 of the Kenyan constitution.
Alongside that, there is also an online petition which the public is urged to sign. This petition is to be delivered to the president and is demanding that he does several things towards maternal health, some among them to direct the Ministry of Health to reinstate the Standards and Guidelines for reducing maternal mortality and morbidity, resume training for abortion providers and make safe legal abortion services accessible to all Kenyan women, regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status.
That in a nutshell, is the struggle going on at legal, medical and legislative levels. But what about the common woman? Laws aside, does she understand the basics about abortion, her reproductive health in general, and the issues that surround them? Unfortunately not. Many women are operating around myths and misconceptions and that is not an ideal environment in which to try and understand their bodies, let alone their reproductive rights. These misconceptions affect many but are especially worse for young patients like this one here.
What are some of these myths and what are the facts about them? Here are a few common ones:
Fact – Women from all walks of life and religious affiliations seek abortions, some from medical professionals and some from quarks. Abortion is not unheard of, and is indeed common even among married women, women in stable relationships and those who are financially stable. It may surprise many that even in religious circles, there are women who seek to terminate pregnancies. This myth only serves to stigmatize women and push them to seek out dangerous underground abortions.
Myth #2 – Abortion is dangerous and puts the woman at more risk than even a risky pregnancy
Fact – When performed by skilled medical professionals in a good medical facility and within the law, abortion is a safe medical procedure from which women recover and can go ahead and have families in future. It is the crude clandestine abortions that may result in horrific effects like uterine perforations, post abortion sepsis and punctured reproductive organs among others. These are the ones that can lead to inability to have children in future, or even death.
Myth #3 – Any pregnancy can be carried to term
Fact – Some pregnancies can be quite toxic to the mother and carrying the pregnancy to term is way riskier than terminating it. These pregnancies are decided on case by case by health professionals but some of the situations in which they may recommend termination are in cases of ectopic pregnancies, or when a mother is diagnosed with a life threatening illness like cancer.
Myth #4 – Women can use abortion as a means of birth control/contraception
Fact – The decision to procure an abortion is not a trivial one for any woman and nobody falls pregnant with abortion in mind as the end game. This myth does not even make sense from a logical standpoint because it implies that it is easier to procure an abortion than it is to get birth control. Termination of pregnancy involves a lot of fear filled soul searching for women and it is often a costly affair. No woman wants to do this on routine.
Myth #5 – That restrictive cultures and legislation will reduce abortions
Fact – Tough cultures and laws will only work to push more women into seeking services from quarks or try to procure the abortions themselves. Women will have no choice but to try out crude methods like ingesting concoctions and inserting twigs and other sharp objects into their vaginas to name a few. These crude methods lead to injury and sometimes even death.