This weekend, the world will be marking the International Safe Abortion Day, on 28th September. This comes in the wake of the recent High Court ruling to reinstate the 2012 Standards and Guidelines for Reducing Morbidity and Mortality from Unsafe Abortion in Kenya.
While many reproductive health advocates have lauded the court’s decision as a win for women, many Kenyans are still in the dark regarding what the document actually says.
Unsafe abortion remains a leading cause of death for women and girls in Kenya, with an estimated 2,600 Kenyan women dying from unsafe back alley abortions annually. That’s seven women dying every day!
The June 22 decision by the high court to reinstate the safe abortion Standards & Guidelines will greatly help women who suffer unintended pregnancies get adequate help.
Yet, despite the ruling, many Kenyans and even health practitioners continue to be ignorant about the content of this document. Some of the standards outlined therein include:
• Community health workers and community health extension workers should be trained to pregnancy prevention information and services;
• All women, men and young people should be provided with family planning and contraceptive services of their choice without provider bias as long as they meet medical eligibility criteria;
• The media should be sensitized on unsafe abortions and supported to provide accurate community education and news reporting, champions should be identified and trained to provide information and advocate for pregnancy prevention services;
• Facilities providing sexual and reproductive health services should have protocols for providing abortion services to survivors of sexual violence;
• All termination of pregnancy should be carried in a health facility with appropriate equipment according to the article 26(4) of the constitution;
• Pregnancy termination must be performed by health professional who are trained and skilled in the provision of termination of pregnancy;
• All women undergoing termination of pregnancy must be given informed consent before the procedure, accurate information on the risks and benefit of abortion must be given to all women undergoing termination of pregnancy to enable them make informed choice;
• Family planning and contraceptives counselling and methods should be offered to all women undergoing termination of pregnancy.
These are just a few of the clear standards guided by the health policies and recognized as binding for all public healthcare providers. Articles 30 and 32 of the Maputo Protocol stipulate that it is the right of a woman to access both services and information.
Since Kenya is a signatory of the Maputo protocol which aids in protecting of the rights of women and girls, we ought to follow the protocol to the letter. The government should protect and safeguard the Kenyan constitution highlighting the rights of all Kenyans to reproductive health and emergency medical care (Article 43).
Article 26(4) of the Kenyan constitution also provides for safe abortion under special circumstances – such as when the life or health of a woman is in danger – yet many Kenyan women and girls remain ignorant about where to begin if they wanted help. No wonder they still resort to back alley procedures and further endanger their lives.
We should protect, promote women reproductive health by closing down quack facilities, clinics, and doctors operating illegally. We should also clarify societal values and transform attitudes through reproductive health education and empowerment of women to make informed choices over their bodies.
Nthiana is a reproductive health advocate at the Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa (NAYA)