In 1996, Nelson Mandela signed into law the most progressive reproductive Bill for women. It allowed them free abortions until 12 weeks and by 1997, South Africa saw a 91 per cent drop in deaths caused by unsafe abortions.
In Kenya, seven women and girls die every day due to unsafe abortions. Criminalising safe abortion services, without investing highly in sex education to prevent unwanted pregnancies, is the cause of those unwarranted deaths that aren’t most likely to stop, especially when we exist in a country that derails every effort to have sex education taught in schools.
In 2019 for example, a Nairobi-based church sponsored signboards, posters, and ad campaigns in broadcast media that used images of deformed fetuses and words like “Abortion is murder” to fight back against abortion. Although this campaign was designed as a pro-life stance to discourage abortion, it came at a point when Kenya was considering a Bill introducing sexual and reproductive health education in its curriculum. In turn, as activists protested against this shaming campaign, their efforts in pushing for the introduction of a sexual and reproductive health curriculum waned. Thus, it is sad that sexual and reproductive health rights education remains an afterthought in our country.
The above anti-abortion media ad campaign supports the argument that Kenya’s civic space for the enjoyment and advancement of reproductive rights is shrinking. Arguments like the involvement of the father or other stakeholders like the family in making abortion choices might be used to oppose abortion but all these arguments boil down to the oppression of women and their bodies.
The specific vulnerability African women and adolescent girls face as they seek their sexual and reproductive health rights cannot be grasped by limiting their reproductive rights to abortion rights. Instead, the shaming through media ad campaigns as seen in Nairobi can conveniently lead to the overlooking of other gendered female experiences that make it difficult for women to enjoy their reproductive rights.
I was listening to an influencer talking about her third pregnancy. She said that her husband and she were done with having children since they already had four and then the pregnancy she is carrying happened. This is not a new story. It is the story of many married couples and that is why married women are one of the largest demographic of people that settle for abortion services.
We have contraceptives but truth be told, it is so hard to be in control of your fertility for over 30 years. You could be careful. You could have the right contraceptives but the fact remains that any woman who is actively having sex can be a victim of an unplanned pregnancy. Making sure you do not get pregnant every month for more than three decades is not an easy feat.
When it comes to abortions or single motherhood, the world does not expect it to happen even though it is a common occurrence in the society we live in. Single mothers are stigmatised but women with two, or three baby daddies have it worse. The world expects you to learn from your “missteps” but then having a child, or an abortion, does not guarantee you won’t have another unplanned pregnancy. Unless a woman ties her tubes, she will always be at risk of getting pregnant again.
Abortion is demonised and yet childbirth is more violent than abortion and people do have up to nine children. Childbirth is a violent procedure that could result in fistula, and to you dying but it is never talked about.
Most of the fear we have about abortion is unfounded because safe abortions are not as violent. Your vagina is not cut up with scissors to pave way for the baby after an abortion but it happens during childbirth. Childbirth is statistically 14 times more likely to cause death than abortion so anyone who tells you to carry a baby to term because abortion is murder is a liar. Most abortions are done before 13 weeks and they are as safe as any other minor medical procedure.