In Malawi, a New Law on Abortions Could Save Women’s Lives

Malawi lawmakers blocked debate of proposals to ease abortion restrictions in the southern African country.

Unsafe terminations contribute to one of the region’s highest rates of maternal mortality.

Head of the parliamentary health committee and the bill’s main sponsor, Mathews Ngwale vowed to present the draft law again in the weeks or months ahead after members of parliament (MPs) rejected a motion to discuss the controversial proposal.

The abortion bill, which was first drawn up nearly five years ago, has met stiff opposition from the mainly Christian country including Roman Catholic bishops who rallied against it in peaceful demonstrations, and organised street protests in 2016.

Anti-abortion protesters in Lilongwe,Malawi

Abortions in Malawi are only allowed when it is necessary to save a woman’s life, but the reform would allow terminations in cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s physical or mental health.

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The daily deaths of young women and girls from illegal abortions or labour complications linked to unsafe terminations is unsettling. A new law would save women’s lives.

According to a 2017 study by the Guttmacher Institute, a global research group, and Malawi’s Centre for Reproductive Health, Malawi has about 574 deaths per 100,000 live births.

With unsafe abortions accounting for between 6% and 18% of those deaths.

Campaigners backing the ease of abortion restrictions vowed to keep rallying support for the legislative push.

Emma Kaliya, executive director for the NGO Gender Coordination Network (NGOGCN), said
“Whatever time the government will see it as convenient to bring the bill, let them do so. Let them choose what to do. But at the end of the day it is the women who suffer.”

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Director of the Centre for Solutions Journalism, Brian Ligomeka – whose organisation has been intensely campaigning for the bill said
“Our members of parliament ought to remember that at stake are the lives of women who induce backstreet abortions clandestinely every year, with some of them ending up in graves.”

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