Health ministry supports legalisation of abortion
20 October 2021 | Local News
Namibia's health ministry is urging government to legalise safe abortions in Namibia.
“It is the Ministry of Health and Social Services’ view that the current legislation on abortion is outdated and therefore needs to be reviewed and enact new legislation in order to address the realities on the ground,” executive director Ben Nangombe said on Tuesday.
He said the general consensus is that the apartheid-era abortion law “fits the criteria put in place by the Law Reform and Development Commission to identify and describe obsolete laws, specifically that it no longer serves an objective for which it was promulgated.”
Nangombe was speaking on the second day of the public hearings on abortion law reform before the parliamentary standing committee gender equality, social development and family affairs.
Namibian gynaecologist and obstetrician, Dr David Emvula, who testified as a clinician in his personal capacity, noted that while data is scarce, health authorities recorded the deaths of 14 women from abortion related complications in Namibia between April 2018 and March 2021.
He said despite Namibia’s restrictive law on abortion, “it is still happening, and we are losing women because of these complications from termination of pregnancy”.
He emphasised that World Health Organisation statistics have found that in countries where abortion is legal, unsafe abortions account for about 12 per 100 000 women. In countries where abortion services are restricted or banned, unsafe abortion rates are almost twice as high.
“When a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy, she will do it,” he said.
Nangombe listed a range of factors supporting the ministry’s stance on abortion reform, including the impact of unsafe abortions on public health, the rights to sexual and reproductive health of women, and protecting the lives of women.
Surveys indicate that unsafe abortions contribute to between 12% and 16% of maternal deaths and about 20% of obstetric complications are attributed to unsafe abortions in Namibia, he said.
Nangombe noted that the WHO has urged member states, including Namibia, to address unsafe abortions as a major public health issue. “For Namibia this highlights the need to review the current, rather archaic, legislation on abortion.”
Speaking extensively on the issue of autonomy and reproductive choices, Nangombe stressed that it is the “human right of women to control their fertility and sexuality free of coercion”, as per international conventions to which Namibia is a signatory.
Nangombe further emphasised that reproductive choices give women the right “to choose whether or not to reproduce, including the right to decide whether to carry or terminate an unwanted pregnancy and the right to choose their preferred method of family planning and contraception.”
Dr Emvula said international data shows that “criminalisation results in clandestine and unsafe abortions, dumping of babies and high mortality rates for poor and young women”.
On the other hand, the data shows that comprehensive family planning services, including access to safe abortions, have resulted in steep declines of pregnancy related deaths in countryies after abortion was legalised.
Statistics collected by Dr Emvula over a period of one month during September this year, of patients admitted with pregnancy related emergencies to Katutura State hospital, showed that more than 70% of patients presented with complaints related to miscarriages.
While few if any patients admit that their miscarriages are a result of unsafe abortions, Emvula highlighted the high costs of treatment.
“Treating complications of unsafe terminations is expensive. There is no doubt about it.”
Dr Emvula briefly spoke on the complex question of “when life begins”, noting that it is a subjective discussion and there is no consensus on the answer.
He noted however that in a clinical setting, the determination is made on “foetus viability”, which means that it “is the point in weeks, and weight, usually 500 grams, at which a baby can be resuscitated after it is born.”