Focus abortion debate on rights, not religion
30 June 2020 | Government
The woman who revived Namibia's abortion debate this month has written an open letter to parliament asking that the debate on abortion law reform slated to take place later this week, be grounded on facts, human and women’s rights.
By Monday afternoon 35 000 signatures of support had been added to the “Legalise Abortion in Namibia” petition, created and launched on 12 June this year by activist Beauty Boois.
Within weeks, the petition has reignited strong public and political discussions around abortion law reform, with many arguing that the apartheid-era law under which abortion is illegal except under circumstances of rape, incest and the heath of the mother or foetus, is ready to be repealed.
In an open letter to parliament, Boois urges “every single Namibian member of parliament to make their arguments based on facts and to carefully scrutinize the current abortion law, to assess whether or not the law violates the human rights of Namibian women”.
Boois emphasises “abortion rights are a public health issue as well as a reproductive justice issue and a human rights issue”.
And, as a secular state, Boois urges government leaders to focus the debate “on public health, human rights, women’s rights, and reproductive justice", and to leave religion and personal moral views out of the discussions.
Weighing in on the heated debate over the weekend, First Lady Monica Geingos tweeted in response to arguments linking personal responsibility and unwanted pregnancies.
In one tweet she clarified that “sexual activity, whether by choice or coercion, without the use of effective contraceptives, is the ‘root cause’ of unintended pregnancy. The decision to remain pregnant, or not, is about reproductive autonomy. Saying women seek an abortion ‘for fun’ is gaslighting.”
She also tweeted: “The essence of the pro-choice argument is a personal responsibility, choice and consequence - it has never been about children born out of wedlock, fatherlessness or single parenthood. This is why this discussion needs evidence-based arguments, lest we tie ourselves into knots.”
In mid-June, parliamentarian Mandela Kapere wrote in a public Facebook post that “access to safe abortion should be an option available for any woman in this day and age, not only the wealthy”.
Kapere explained his support of legalising abortion is driven by a “class perspective and in that regard, all indications are that access to safe and legal abortion will go a long way to restore dignity and provide options for poor, rural and vulnerable women, who do not have alternative choices”.
For and against
While the pro-choice movement has gathered momentum and attracted increasing support, anti-abortion views remain rife in Namibia, grounded primarily in religious arguments.
A petition advocating for the rejection of legalising abortion had gained over 13 000 signatures by Monday this week.
Gender equality minister Doreen Sioka made it clear recently that she did not support the move to legalise abortion in Namibia. However, several medical doctors, including health minister Kalumbi Shangula and former health minister Bernard Esau have gone on record that they support law reform.
Last week, deputy health minister Esther Muinjangue tabled a motion to debate abortion in parliament. The debate has been postponed to Thursday this week.
Muinjangue said despite the difficult topic, leaders “cannot turn a blind eye. Whether legal or not, abortion is a reality in our society and hence the need to debate on it, weigh the pros and cons, for us as a country to make informed decisions.”
She said it is time for all Namibians, including church, political and traditional leaders “to become more open-minded and to unpack the advantages as well as disadvantage of abortion”.
She said the abortion debate “is not a yes or no issue” and requires serious research into the challenges and benefits of legalising abortion and looking at what other countries are doing.
Since the launch of the petition to legalise abortion, Boois hand-delivered copies of the petition to the ministries of health, justice and gender equality.