BLANTYRE - Anti-abortion activists in Malawi are protesting plans by the National Assembly to debate a bill that would allow abortion in cases of rape and incest. Malawi's abortion rights activists argue the Termination of Pregnancy Bill would help prevent the 12,000 deaths annually from illegal, unsafe abortions.
Abortion is currently illegal in Malawi and punishable by a maximum of 14 years in prison except in cases where pregnancy threatens the life of a woman.
Proponents of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill say the restriction is forcing women to seek illegal abortion services mostly from untrained personnel.
Government statistics indicate that 70,000 women in Malawi have illegal abortions each year and 17 percent of them die from the procedure.
Dr. Amos Nyaka is vice chair for the Coalition for Prevention of Unsafe Abortion, which is championing liberalized abortion laws in Malawi.
“From a public health point of view, it is important to address this issue of complications that arise from termination of pregnancy. That’s why it is important that this bill be discussed, at be looked at about how we can protect women from dying from termination of pregnancies,” said Dr. Nyaka.
The bill would also allow victims of rape, underage sex and incest to end their pregnancies.
At a press conference Monday, anti-abortion activists, mostly religious groups, asked the National Assembly not to discuss the bill, which is expected to be presented during the current sitting of parliament.
Thomas Msusa is the chairperson for the Episcopal Conference of Malawi.
He said the government should not champion the measure, which he said promotes killings.
“But if they don’t really listen to what we are saying, we will call for another cause of action. Whether it will be the same as what we did in 2016 or another way of doing things, until what God calls us for, should be listened,” said Msusa.
In 2016, a group of anti-abortion activists led by the Catholic Church marched to parliament to stop lawmakers from discussing the legislation.
Brian Banda, the presidential press secretary, told reporters in the capital, Lilongwe, Monday that President Lazarus Chakwera cannot prevent parliament from discussing the measure.
“What the president says is people who have views against this bill, they should discuss. Being a private members’ bill, they should lobby members of parliament on how they can deal with this matter,” said Banda.
The lawmakers are expected to debate the bill before the current sitting of parliament ends on October 23.