‘Govt needs rethink on abortion laws’
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.