Doctors support abortion law review

18 June 2020 | Health

Windhoek • [email protected]

Two prominent Namibian medical doctors have come out in support of a petition calling on Namibia to legalise abortion saying the debate is long overdue and urgent.
Dr Bernard Haufiku, government health advisor and former health minister, says “women must be allowed to have options and decide for themselves on what they want and when they want it. Only them and no one else should decide on their bodies. Women, like everyone else, know what they want and don’t want.”
One of the country’s leading gynaecologists, Dr Matti Kimberg, describes himself as an “anti-abortionist who has been mugged by reality. Prevention is better than cure.”
In his profession “we regularly have to deal with the tragic results of backstreet abortions. These affect careers, education, future childbearing abilities, families and can even have fatal consequences.”
Ultimately, Kimberg argues, "the saga returns again and again to women’s rights. Men, who often make the laws, are quick to scurry into the woodwork when faced with the reality and the responsibility of unwanted pregnancy.”
He says the current Abortion and Sterilisation Act of 1975, which was drafted and implemented 45-years ago by male politicians in apartheid-era South Africa, is “outdated and in conflict with current thinking on human rights, in this instance as particularly regards women.”
Both spoke in the wake of the “Legalise abortion in Namibia” petition, which to date has attracted close to 5 000 signatures in seven days.

No personal
Haufiku underlined that discussions around sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), including abortion, should be characterised by non-biased, thorough and rational talks, and that “religion and politics should be taken out of it if the debate is to include some degree of objectivity”.
Haufiku warned that too often the abortion debate is "hijacked by people and organisations that have their own ideologies and political or other agendas. It is puzzling to me that men of all sorts of intentions, backgrounds and biases want to make decisions for and to control what women should or not do.”
Moreover, women must lead the way as they are most impacted by the current restrictions around abortion, that limit terminations only in cases of rape, incest and when the mother or child's life are endangered.
In his view “we all need to support our women. Let them exercise their rights while helping them, especially the youth, with appropriate information such as where to access reproductive health and rights and family planning services."
Moreover, he says the "appropriate laws should be in place to allow choices for termination of pregnancies.”

Dianne Hubbard of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) has repeatedly argued in favour of legalising abortion, warning that the current restrictive law only drives abortion underground. Moreover, that the law is biased against poor Namibians, whose health is risked by being forced to undergo illegal and often dangerous abortions, while wealthier Namibian women obtain legal and safe abortions in other countries.
Hubbard has underlined that abortion rights are not about personal views. "Although I am personally opposed to abortion, I do not believe that the law should restrict access to abortion by choice during the early stages of pregnancy."
She notes that abortion rights should go hand in hand with appropriate, non-judgmental counselling and support services.
Haufiku underlined that "only when women are empowered with the necessary knowledge and have choices to make, will we reduce the dangers of backstreet and illegal abortions and all of its complications.”
Haufiku warned that the debate will continue to crop up unless the country decides to tackle it head-on “make rational input, come to a rational conclusion, and make a final decision once and for all, popular or unpopular”.

Women matter
Beauty Boois, the human rights activist who launched the petition, says women’s sexual health and reproductive rights “are not respected or protected" in Namibia.
She argues that the current law “robs women of their wellbeing, health and autonomy. This is a human rights issue, one that must be met with great urgency by our very capable and progressive leaders.”
She added that legalising abortion would signal to women and girls “that their autonomy matters, their lives matter, their freedom matters because we will no longer prosecute them for turning to unsafe abortions and we give them the right to choose.”
Boois is working closely with various human rights groups in Namibia to spread awareness on the topic her petition, which has reignited the abortion debate, and to ensure the dialogue continues.

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