Members of various religious groups in Malawi held street protests Tuesday against a proposed law that would expand women’s ability to terminate a pregnancy. The country's existing law allows only pregnant mothers whose lives are in danger to obtain an abortion.
More than 20,000 people including schoolchildren, medical personnel and members of a Rastafarian sect marched to the parliament in Lilongwe to protest the bill.
Among the placards they carried were signs that read, "A nation that kills its children is a nation without hope," "No life, rights," and "Thank you, mother, for not aborting me."
Leading the protest were the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, an arm of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Association of Malawi, an umbrella body of 122 Christian denominations.
"Our clear message is: Life begins at the moment of conceptions,” said the Rev. Father Henry Saindi, secretary general for the Episcopal Conference of Malawi. “Life of the human being was created in the image and likeliness of God himself, so nobody has the right to decide to take life at whatever cost."
Proponents of the proposed new law say abortion should be allowed to prevent injury to the physical or mental health of a woman; when the pregnancy results from rape, incest or defilement; and when there is severe malformation of the fetus.
Protester Cecilia Nkhonjera disagrees.
"That life has got the right to live,” she said. “So that is why I said no. I have to demonstrate that I am supposed to keep life, not to kill life."
Statistics from the Malawian Ministry of Health show more than 70,000 women seek backstreet abortions each year, and nearly 30,000 of them result in complications, and sometimes death.
The statistics also show that post-abortion care, which is offered in public hospitals, costs the government nearly $1 million a year.
The Coalition for the Prevention for Unsafe Abortion is pushing the new abortion bill. Its national coordinator, Chrispine Sibande, told VOA that Malawi's parliament is debating budgets for the ministry of health in which about $400,000 goes to post-abortion care.
"In the petition, they [protesters] are not addressing that,” Sibande said. “So even if they tell parliament, parliament consists of reasonable people who will look for realistic solutions and we believe that parliament will opt for realistic [a] solution, because real problems have to be addressed by real solutions, not noise."
The protesters have warned that parliament members risk being voted out of office should they allow the bill to pass.