Malawi: Abortion law under review (Voice of America)

| August 10, 2015

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The Malawi Law Commission is drafting a new bill to “liberalize abortion.” The country could be on the path to making abortions accessible for women who seek them, though only under certain conditions.

Currently, abortion is illegal in Malawi. A Malawian woman who seeks an abortion could face up to 14 years in jail, except in cases where pregnancy threatens her life. Yet, according to government statistics, 70,000 women seek illegal and unsafe abortions every year in Malawi, and unsafe abortions are responsible for 17% of maternal mortalities.

Justice Esmie Chombo is the chairperson of the Malawi Special Commission which is reviewing the abortion law. She says the new bill would give women the right to legally abort, but only for pregnancies which are the result of rape or incest.

Crispin Sibande is the national coordinator for the Coalition for Prevention of Unsafe Abortion. She says the new bill is still too restrictive. Ms. Sibande notes that, according to Ministry of Health statistics, 80 percent of women and girls who receive an abortion are married or in permanent relationships.

She adds: “[In the new bill] if a person is married, can she qualify to procure abortion under rape? If a person is in a relationship and having casual sex and then is pregnant… It means that they will not qualify.”

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Photo: Malawi clinic that provides care for women who have had unsafe abortions. Credit: Rebecca Jacobson