‘Govt needs re­think on abor­tion laws’

Lesotho Times - - News - Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane

GOV­ERN­MENT has been urged to en­act strin­gent laws pe­nal­is­ing il­le­gal abor­tions and pro­vide fa­cil­i­ties at public hos­pi­tals for women who need to un­dergo pro­fes­sional preg­nancy ter­mi­na­tion to avoid the at­ten­dant mor­tal­i­ties and health com­pli­ca­tions.

This was the res­o­lu­tion of a panel dis­cus­sion held yes­ter­day at the Na­tional Uni­ver­sity of Le­sotho (NUL), through its Fac­ulty of Hu­man­i­ties.

In 2010, the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho passed the Pe­nal Code Act whose Sec­tion 45 ren­ders abor­tion, or the ter­mi­na­tion of preg­nancy, un­law­ful.

How­ever, the law pro­vides ex­cep­tions where abor­tion is con­ducted to pro­tect the health of the ex­pect­ing mother, where the fe­tus is severelly hand­i­capped, where the preg­nancy is a re­sult of rape and where the preg­nancy is a prod­uct of in­cest. A panel dis­cus­sion made up of five lec­tur­ers in­ter­act­ing with tens of stu­dents tack­led the is­sue of abor­tion and its so­ci­etal dilem­mas as they re­late to health, legal, moral and re­li­gious is­sues.

Moses Ow­eri, from the uni­ver­sity’s Fac­ulty of Law, gave a com­par­i­son be­tween Le­sotho and South Africa’s legal frame­works with re­gards to abor­tion.

“It will prob­a­bly be a guide for de­bate if we looked across the bor­der and com­pared our legal po­si­tion with that of South Africa,” Mr Ow­eri said.

“In 1996, the South African par­lia­ment passed the Choice on Ter­mi­na­tion of Preg­nancy Act which came into force in Jan­uary 1997. That par­tic­u­lar piece of leg­is­la­tion makes pro­vi­sions that preg­nancy can only be ter­mi­nated ei­ther by a doc­tor, reg­is­tered mid­wife or a reg­is­tered nurse.

“It fur­ther pro­vides that the con­sent nec­es­sary for pre­ma­ture ter­mi­na­tion of preg­nancy is that of the ex­pect­ing mother and no­body else. Abor­tion is only per­mit­ted sub­ject to verification of the ges­ta­tional pe­riod.”

He added that South Africa does not al­low abor­tion in the first 12 weeks of the preg­nancy.

“From the 13th to 20th week of the ges­ta­tion- al pe­riod, South African law stip­u­lates that it is only per­mis­si­ble with the con­sent of the ex­pect­ing mother,” Mr Ow­eri said.

“At that point, abor­tion can only be car­ried out by a doc­tor, with reg­is­tered nurse or a reg­is­tered mid­wife no longer per­mit­ted.”

He noted that stud­ies had re­vealed that hun­dreds of ex­pect­ing moth­ers died due to il­le­gal abor­tion, “but the num­bers were re­duced tremen­dously af­ter en­act­ment of the law le­gal­is­ing abor­tion in South Africa from 1996. “Be­fore the 1996 Act was passed, it was found that be­cause abor­tion was il­le­gal, most ex­pect­ing moth­ers who wanted to carry it out went to what you would call back­streets,” said Mr Ow­eri.

“The re­sult was that be­tween 1975 and 1996, the SA Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil found that there was be­tween 120 000 and 250 000 il­le­gal abor­tions.”

He said the Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil also dis­cov­ered that 400 ex­pect­ing moth­ers died be­cause of the il­le­gal abor­tions.

“And 45 000 women were ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal as a re­sult of ill-health brought about by il­le­gal abor­tions. The es­ti­mated cost of treat­ing th­ese women was R18.4 mil­lion in 1994,” Mr Ow­eri said.

“This cost only cov­ers those women who went to public hos­pi­tals. The oth­ers who died else­where were not cov­ered by th­ese fig­ures.”

Af­ter the pas­sage of the 1996 Act, he said, the Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil went back to the field.

“In 1997 alone, there were 30 000 legal abor­tions car­ried out trans­par­ently in public hos­pi­tals and, of the com­pli­ca­tions, only nine women passed away.”

Matšeliso Mapetla of the Po­lit­i­cal and Ad­min­is­tra­tive Stud­ies said: “I want to fo­cus on the pol­i­tics of abor­tion and the role of the state be­cause the state plays a very im­por­tant role. It has an obli­ga­tion to see that cit­i­zens’ wel­fare is taken care of.

“The po­lit­i­cal is­sues that I want us to think about are whether women should have the right to ter­mi­nate preg­nancy when they want to, or that should be determined by the state, and whether they should be pre­vented by the state to do so.

She noted that the fail­ure by states to pro­vide pol­icy di­rec­tion on the is­sue re­flected a pa­tri­ar­chal sta­tus quo.

“For ex­am­ple in Le­sotho we don’t have a fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy, rather we have re­pro­duc­tive health pol­icy, which of course does not look into is­sues of free abor­tion,” Ms Mapetla said.

“That re­flects the per­sonal views of pol­icy and law mak­ers and we know that most of them are males.

Other lec­tur­ers who made pre­sen­ta­tions in­cluded Seeiso Sekoati, Pro­fes­sor Fran­cis Rakot­soane and Dr Li­neo Tsekoa, of Phi­los­o­phy, Re­li­gious Stud­ies and Men­tal Health re­spec­tively.

Some of the panel mem­bers ad­dress Na­tional Uni­ver­sity of Le­sotho stu­dents at the in­sti­tu­tion yes­ter­day.

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