‘Say yes to choice’

Protestors demand law reform
Jana-Mari Smith
Protestors took to Windhoek’s streets on Saturday to campaign for the rights of women to end unwanted pregnancies legally and safely.
The ‘Yes to Choice’ march, organised by the Voices for Choices and Rights Coalition (VCRC), took place ahead of a parliamentary standing committee report that is expected to be made public soon, on whether or not to reform the current abortion and sterilisation act. The nearly 50-year-old law extends a near total ban on legal and safe abortions in Namibia.
Public hearings were launched last October following a petition by pro-choice activists that has garnered 63 000 signatures in support to date.
“How many 19-year-olds are dying because African leaders are unable, and more importantly, unwilling to allow us access safe reproductive health care,” Yevai Zhakata, one of the speakers at the march on Saturday, asked.
Studies show that as of 2019, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of abortion related deaths in the world.
Research have shown abortion rates do not decline in countries where it is banned or restricted, compared to where it is legal. However, restrictive laws force women to obtain illegal abortions that pose a severe threat to their health and lives and can land them in prison.
Hildegard Titus, the founder of Power Pad Girls, said even abortions that are allowed under the current law, as in cases of incest and rape, are often denied to young girls due to the difficult to navigate red-tape in place to obtain legal abortions.
“How many women have bled out on their way to the hospital because of backstreet abortions? How many of us are going to perform backstreet abortions because our state has failed us, how many of us are going to be forced to carry pregnancies to term, how many are in jail now for trying to end their pregnancies?” she asked.
Colonial legacy
Zhakata added: “In this country we love talking about how much we hate apartheid, how much we have moved on, but how can we really move on from apartheid when we keep laws in place that were created by a government whose entire legacy was to control us?”
Ndiilokelwa Nthengwe of the VCRC on Saturday said the current law implemented to control birth rates among white women in order to uphold the apartheid regime.
Nthengwe said as Namibia celebrates 32 years of Independence, many Namibians rights and freedoms continue to be compromised by colonial laws.
In an opinion piece published ahead of Independence Day, the author and activist wrote: “To what extent then should we claim full independence when entrenched colonial ideology and attitudes continue to fester in every nook and cranny of our society?”
Ripple effect
Rosalia Hipondoka, founder of the missing persons unit, said many young girls run away from home to end unwanted pregnancies in unsafe conditions to avoid stigmatisation and criminalisation.
“Abortion is about allowing women the right to make choices about whether they want children in relation to their age, financial stability, relationship stability. It is not the place of the government to legislate against women’s choices.”
“The argument against abortion is a moral argument that should not be legislated against,” she said.
Hipondoka stressed that safe abortions are an individual choice and not about the moral and religious beliefs of some.
At the start of the public hearings last year, health ministry executive director Ben Nangombe advocated for law reform.
“It is the Ministry of Health and Social Services’ view that the current legislation on abortion is outdated and therefore needs to be reviewed and enact new legislation in order to address the realities on the ground.”
He said the current legislation fits the criteria of an obsolete law that “no longer serves an objective for which it was promulgated.”
Namibian gynaecologist and obstetrician, Dr David Emvula, told the committee that although data is scarce due to the clandestine nature of illegal terminations, at least 14 women have died from abortion related complications in Namibia between April 2018 and March 2021.
Emvula warned that despite Namibia’s restrictive law abortions are “still happening, and we are losing women because of these complications from termination of pregnancy. When a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy, she will do it,” he said.