To abort or not; what the law says
May 29, 2007
Women’s human rights to determine what to do with their bodies, religion and politics have all formed part of the long running debate on abortion. The issue of whether abortion should be legalised in Uganda has now taken on a national dimension, especially after the chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission , Mrs Margaret Ssekaggya stated that women have a right to abort.The anti-abortion lobbyists, whose crusade is largely based on moral-religious grounds argue that the right to life is God-given and as such cannot be taken away by an expectant mother who is not ready to suffer the pangs of birth .This group stresses the point that terminating a pregnancy is a selfish act where a woman preserves her life at the expense of her unborn baby - which in itself is murder.For starters, the Constitution of Uganda allows for the fundamental right to life which includes the life of un-born child. However, the same Constitution allows for women to terminate the life of an unborn child in circumstances that are permitted by law. Although our criminal penal law outlaws abortion and imposes a heavy penalty of imprisonment for life upon conviction, Section 224 of the same law allows for surgical operation to terminate the pregnancy (read abortion) in situations where the mother’s life is in danger.Much as we have the law criminalising abortions, it is a well known fact that many unsafe abortions are still carried out in the country. As a result several women and girls die or suffer life threatening complications given the crude and unhealthy methods which are employed to abort in these backstreet ‘clinics’.The high maternal mortality registered in this country can partly be attributed to the many unsafe abortions some carried out by quacks.By criminalising abortion and the State’s failure to legalise and provide for safe abortion many women are left with one option - to secure unsafe abortions. The end results are in most cases disastrous with lives lost and women’s fundamental right to life is infringed upon.That is why this column takes the stand that it is a total violation of the women’s fundamental human rights to criminalise abortion. Access to safe and legal abortion is a woman’s human right which is supported by numerous international legal instruments.The woman’s right to abort also touches on the other sensitive issue of gender equality which hitherto was considered to a taboo - in the African setting. Well, those were the medieval times and people have since moved on. Now, the right to gender equality is a fundamental human right not only recognised by international human rights law but by our national Constitution as well.Yes, the male folk are free to do whatever they want with their bodies and the women cannot be permitted similar privileges? This is wrong, unfair and unjust under the law. The law about non-discrimination on grounds of gender as provided for in our Constitution takes the legal effect of eliminating all laws (including the sections which criminalise abortion) that are designed to fail women from realising and exercising their human rights on a basis of equality with men.It is also clear that laws that deny women the choice to abort have the wanton effect of curtailing the woman’s human right to decide what is in her best interests. It is a well known fact that a discriminatory legal regime undermines the status of women in society as being ‘weaker’ and unable to make responsible decisions about their bodies or more importantly their lives.Further still, it is a well known international human rights principle that the right to health includes the right to reproductive health and this encompasses the right to reproductive self-determination. International health law further provides for women and any other peoples of the civilised world to have the highest attainable standard of health. The United Nations has called upon governments (including the Uganda government) to consider the consequences of unsafe abortion on women’s health and deal with the problem as a major public health concern.
Next week: What have courts decided on the life of a foetus/father of the unborn?
The writer is a Journalist/Advocate,firstname.lastname@example.org 43 46 77.