The United States-based reproductive rights organization Ipas in collaboration with the Malawi’s Ministry of Health recently conducted the study entitled Abortion in Malawi: Results of a Study of Incidents and Magnitude of Complications Due to Unsafe Abortions.
Godfrey Kangaude was one of the researchers of Ipas. He said the study wanted to find out how many women are inducing abortions which can in turn lead to deadly complications.
“Part of the findings is that in 2009 alone 70,000 women had induced abortion,' he said, "and we also estimated that the abortion rate is about 24 abortions per 1000 women of child bearing age. So you can see that this is a high number of induced abortions.”
However, abortion is illegal in Malawi except under circumstances where it threatens the life of a mother.
Section 149 of the country's penal code penalizes anyone who performs an abortion to 14 years imprisonment, while any woman who solicits one can be put in jail for up to seven years.
However Kangaude said despite the penalties, many women still seek to have the procedure.
“[My] first concern is that the law despite being restrictive does not prevent women from accessing abortions," he explained. "What just happens is that these induced abortions tend to be clandestine and unsafe (which results in deaths of many women).”
Statistics from the country’s public hospitals show that 17 percent of maternal deaths are because of complications due to unsafe abortions.
Kangaude said this means that the law does not support the reproductive health rights of the women but instead infringes the rights of these women.
“Because instead of accessing safe abortion services," he said, "they (women) go for other services since the public health systems do not provide these safe abortions to women who need them”.
He said the danger is that most of these women develop fatal complications like hemorrhage, ruptured uterus and infertility.
The study has therefore asked government to consider liberalizing abortion laws so that all women should have access to abortion using safe methods from trained medical practitioners.
“For example," he said, "if the woman feels that she has ill health and needs an abortion and if the pregnancy is as a result of sexual coercion or if indeed the woman really feels that she cannot carry on with the pregnancy due to economic reasons”.
National Coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau Sheikh Dinala Chabulika said it would be inhumane for Malawi to legalize the procedure.
“In Islam, he explained, "abortion is only allowed when there is proof from a medical doctor that the life of a mother will be in danger during delivery."
Some people commenting on social networks like Twitter and Facebook say Western religious views were imposed on Africans during colonialism and do not understand why people still cling to them today.
They say it’s time for African countries with restrictive abortion laws to revisit them just as many former Western colonizers have.
African countries which have liberalized them include Zambia and South Africa.
Human rights campaigners say one of the pacts Malawi has signed, the Maputo protocol, supports greater reproductive rights for women.
Grace Malera is the Executive Secretary of the Malawi Human Rights Commission.
“The Maputo protocol has got an article that is subscribing to liberalization [not only]," he said, " when the pregnancy is threatening the life of the mother but [also when there are pregnancies] resulting from rape and incest. In terms of the human rights, that’s a right to health issue and we need to address it.”
But Ministry of Heath spokesman Henry Chimbali says government authorities are currently looking at the findings of the study before they take next course of action.