Renewed call for legal abortions

11 June 2020 | Health

Windhoek • [email protected]
Namibian women and men have revived a push for government to set aside the
country’s 45-year-old apartheid-era abortion law that was binned in South Africa
twenty years ago when abortion was legalised there.
“It’s overdue. It’s healthcare. It’s a right,” one petitioner wrote yesterday after
she joined hundreds of others who signed the petition to legalise abortion in
Namibia.
The petition was launched on Thursday morning and swiftly exceeded its initial
target of reaching 200 signatures, prompting a new target of 500 signatures.
“I'm tired of the Namibian government telling us women they do not have
autonomy over their bodies unless it is violated,” one Namibian woman wrote
after she signed the petition.
Another detailed the human rights aspect of legalising abortion.
“Access to healthcare is a human right. Medical procedures shouldn’t be
determined or limited by what society deems morally correct, as morality in
itself is a subjective matter. Refusing women access to safe and legal medical
solutions, especially concerning their reproductive health and all it entails,
means refusing women’s (human) rights, their freedom to choice and autonomy.
Legalising abortion means granting everyone the basic right to decide when and
whether to have children. Legalise abortion,” another petitioner wrote.
The petition is addressed to Namibia’s health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula and
deputy health minister Esther Muinjangue.
‘People are doing it’
The petition mentions Namibian president Hage Geingob, quoting an article from
a November 2019 newspaper article in which he was quoted as saying: “One day,
we have to pass the law to legalise abortion. People are dying because they have
to go to dark corners. So, whether it is legal or not, people are doing it.”
The petition underlines that “not only are Namibian women left with no choice
but to break the law in order to practice their right of choice, but they are also
risking their lives, health, and wellbeing in order to obtain illegal abortions.”
The petition’s author writes that the “the right to be able to access legal abortion
in Namibia should be accompanied by education of matters relating to Sexual
Health and Reproductive Rights as well as consent in order to prevent unwanted
pregnancies, baby dumping and encourage safe, legal abortions in the Namibian
nation.”
The author also calls for counseling and support structures to be put in place
alongside the legalisation of abortion, for women considering that option.
Furthermore, the author underlines that the Namibian law on abortion “was
developed during the apartheid era, which is an indication that the Act was never
created for Namibians, by Namibians and in consideration of Namibian social
issues as well as Namibian people in general.”
The petition argues it is time that a law is developed “for Namibians, by
Namibians”.
Ultimate goal

The goal of the petition is to create action towards the legalisation of abortion
“so that Namibian women can take full ownership and practice autonomy over
their own bodies”.
The almost fifty-year-old Abortion and Sterlisation Act 2 of 1975 has never been
democratically debated in post-independent Namibia.
In South Africa the same law, which allows abortion only in extreme cases of
rape, incest or endangerment of the child or mothers life, was overturned more
than 20 years ago.
A case study by the Guttmacher Institute stated that the legislation was drafted
and implemented by an “all-white, all-male committee” and was in effect
promoted as a family planning tool that “became associated with the racist
policies of the apartheid government”.
In Namibia advocates have long argued that laws restricting abortions do not
stop abortions from taking place, but simply drive them underground where the
lives of women are at risk. Moreover, affluent Namibians have for decades
obtained legal abortions across the border in South Africa.
Moreover, the law has resulted in at least 74 arrests of women on charges of
illegal abortions over the past five years, with one woman currently behind bars
on a conviction related to an illegal abortion.
Legal opinion
Legal expert Nico Horn in February this year warned that the law is fruitless.
“It only targets the most vulnerable. How is that a good law? How does it help
anyone? It is definitely not a law that stops abortions; it just pushes people to
obtain illegal and dangerous abortions.”
A signatory of the petition yesterday wrote: “People have abortions all the time.
Legalising it provides safe access avoiding preventable injuries and deaths. It is a
patronising law that disadvantages poorer people.”

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