The New Cold War Over Access to Safe Abortion in Kenya – Global Issues

  • Opinion Stephanie Musho, Ritah Anindo Obonyo (nairobi)
  • Interpress service

Unfortunately, Fatuma’s story is a common one for girls and women in Kenya. In fact, at least 7 of them die every day from complications from unsafe abortion. What’s worse is that with current trends – where 700 girls between the ages of 10 and 19 get pregnant every day; the harrowing abortion statistics are probably worse. If Fatuma had known where she could access safe abortion services, she would not have died.

Despite Kenya’s constitution providing for three cases where safe abortion is permitted, the right to choose whether and when to conceive, as well as to terminate a pregnancy, remains one of the most contentious debates around the world. Significant progress has been made in promoting reproductive justice in Kenya, as the law has been developed by the legal branch of the government. An example is the case of Malindi(Petition E009 2020) which reaffirmed that abortion is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution.

In addition, the court prohibited arbitrary arrests of trained health care providers and people seeking safe abortions within the limits of the Constitution. Still, these advances are under attack in what Kenyans call a new Cold War. It means a battle between gender and reproductive justice advocates against anti-choice subscribers.

In recent years, a series of events have occurred that have affected the social, political, and legal environment for access to life-saving, safe abortion services. First, it was an arbitrary withdrawal National standards and guidelines for reducing maternal mortality and morbidity in 2013. A year after their reinstatement by the High Court, the Department of Health suspended all training for medical abortion providers.

In July this year, the Ministry of Health launched National Reproductive Health Policy (2022-2032)unfair policies that did not follow due process, including the need for representative public participation as set out in Article 118 of the Constitution.. The policy also excludes a segment of the population that has access to reproductive health care because it requires parental consent and does not consider deaths and complications from unsafe abortion to be a public health problem despite the statistics.

Additionally, consider the ongoing assault on women’s health rights by opposition groups led by the far-right extremist organization CitizenGO. They work to deny human rights under the guise of Christianity. They pay hungry and unsuspecting Kenyan youth to spread hashtags that deliberately amplify lies and half-truths about sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially abortion, LGBTI+ rights and sexuality education.

They continue to influence public opinion; and regressive laws and policies around the world, including in Kenya. Ironically, the organization, headquartered in Madrid, is heavily funded by institutions and individuals from the Global North, yet insists that sexual and reproductive health and rights is an alien agenda for Africa – and must be rejected.

CitizenGO has a history of smear campaigns against reproductive justice. They include Hon. Susan Kihika (Former Senator – and now Nakuru County Governor) for sponsoring the Reproductive Health Bill 2019 in the Senate. This bill would have provided a much-needed legal framework for many reproductive issues, such as artificial insemination, that continue to operate in a vacuum.

In addition, they have bullied Hon. Esther Passaris on social media for organizing a Christmas party for sex workers. Recently they trolled Hon. Mukulia is a sponsor of the East African Community Sexual Reproductive Health Bill and called for his dismissal from the East African Legislative Assembly.

Critics could make religious arguments to fight against safe abortion and minority rights. However, it is worth noting that these beliefs are subjective. Moreover, Kenya is a secular country that operates under the doctrine of separation of church and state. This principle creates a distance between the two; recognizing that morality and religion are subjective.

Moreover, the Constitution uses a strong Bill of Rights that is legally binding – and not just recommendations. In addition to extending the right to safe abortion in Article 26(4), this Article 43 expressly provides for the right to the highest attainable standard of reproductive health. In addition, it protects the right to privacy and human dignity. CitizenGO and similar organizations must therefore operate within the laws of the Republic.

While these struggles result in the denial of information and services to marginalized groups; this struggle is not only about access to services and information. It is about unequal power relations. There are people who give large sums of money to initiatives aimed at restricting human rights and freedoms; against progress in government, media and other key sectors.

That is why it is appalling that as supporters of sexual and reproductive health and rights, we invest time and resources to study the ever-changing strategies and tactics used by adversaries to undermine these rights and re-strategize for the ongoing war. We must prioritize the empowerment of movement and the resilience of reproductive rights. Until then, girls and women in Kenya and beyond will die preventable deaths.

Stepanie is a human rights lawyer and senior fellow at the Aspen Institute. Ritah is the Youth Project Coordinator at the Kenya Reproductive Health Network.

© Inter Press Service (2022) — all rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service