Parliament invites public to abortion law hearing

15 October 2021 | Local News

Windhoek • [email protected]

Activists and lawmakers, including Namibia's deputy health minister, have welcomed the first public parliamentary hearings on legalising abortion since the country's independence slated for next week.
“My position always has been for people to have open discussions on any topic, whether its abortion or whatever. Because if people don’t discuss issues and deliberate on them, how do we take an informed decision?” deputy minister of health, Esther Muinjangue, said on Friday.
She said while she was not informed of the scheduled hearing before the parliamentary standing committee of Gender and Family Affairs next week, she welcomed the development. “If there are public discussions and engagement, it is a good sign that we are moving in the right direction to help us as lawmakers to make informed decisions.”
A statement slated for presentation before the committee by the Voices for Choices and Rights Coalition (VCRC), stresses the fatal consequences of regulating women’s choices on pregnancy.
“In Namibia, 500 preventable unsafe abortion mortality deaths are reported annually. Almost all preventable unsafe abortion related deaths occur in countries with restricted abortion laws- and Namibia is one of them.”
Muinjangue on Friday cautioned that “it won’t help serve any purpose to shy away from certain topics, we need to discuss them, it's the reality we face today”.

Timely
The VCRC will on Monday present their stance on abortion reform, which includes the scrapping of the apartheid-era abortion law, which experts have long warned affects only Namibia’s most marginalised, Black and poor women.
“I am happy and hopeful because this is a monumental occasion for all the reproductive justice activists that have come before us and will come after us,” Tuli Kamati of the VCRC said on Friday.
The VCRC coalition ague that “abortion is healthcare”.
Kamati highlighted that the public hearings are a first since Independence, and are taking place in the wake of large-scale pro-choice protests in 2020, and a petition calling for legalised abortion hat has attracted over 62 600 signatures.
The VCRC’s underscores that criminal sanctions do not prevent abortions, but drive them underground instead, leading to increasing rates of pregnancy related deaths and injury.
“Unsafe abortions are life-threatening, which is not pro-life, but is in fact anti-choice. Thus abortion as a right is a good public health policy choice.”
Research shows that unsafe abortions in Africa account for 62% of global unsafe abortion related mortality deaths, which translates to 29 000 women dying each year from backstreet abortions. Among the recommendations put forward by the organisation are to replace the current law with a “voluntary termination of pregnancy and sterilisation act”, and to offer free abortion services at public health facilities.
The VCRC will argue that the right to terminate should apply to persons from the age of 12, without parental or guardian consent, and that terminations be possible up to 28 weeks.

Necessary
Legal scholar Dianne Hubbard on Friday said the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) welcomes the hearings.
“It is appropriate for Parliament to collect more information on any issue that is brought to its attention by means of public petitions, as in this case. This response is in line with Parliament’s response to petitions on other topics.”
The current law allows for legal abortions only when a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life, or in cases of rape and incest.
Obtaining a legal abortion is tricky however, legal experts and advocates have noted, in lieu of the bureaucratic red tape involved to obtain authorisation.
The public hearings will take place in Windhoek from Monday to Thursday, and provide platforms to a variety of stakeholders, including the health and education ministries, pro and anti-legislative reform advocates, the Office of the Ombudsman and the LAC.