Friday, June 04, 2004

The Abortion Debate

Finally! It's about time the Kenyan government stopped sitting on the fence and took a firm stand on whether to legalise abortion or let it remain illegal.

What irks me the most is some of the reasons given for lobbying for abortion to be legalised:

1. Women who conceive outside wedlock should have the option of terminating a pregnancy in the event that the father of the child does not accept his responsibility.

2. A woman who conceives out of wedlock is shunned by society therefore abortion is the only way to avoid her being a social outcast and its repercussions on her quality of life and that of her unborn child.

These arguements reflect society's views. Yet there is a huge gap between this perception and the reality of the abortion patient. Most people envision the typical abortion patient as a high school student ending her first unplanned pregnancy. In reality, the average abortion patient is in her mid-twenties, possibly married with children or unable to afford another child. And, of course, many women arrive at the hospital after suffering natural miscarriages.

Therefore, the more pertinent issue is the health risks that would otherwise face a mother and her unborn child in the event hers and the life of her child are in danger hence an abortion is medically warranted.

One way to remedy the large number of illegally procured abortions is to put in place stiff legal penalties to the parties responsible. This will deter others from whimsically considering this procedure and instead address matters pertaining to their reproductive health more seriously.

Secondly, the Ministry of Health needs to aggressively look into measures to curb the high mortality rates arising from unsafe abortion procedures. According to a recent study by the Population Council, unsafe abortion accounts for more than a third of maternal deaths in Kenya, and the large number of women who arrive in hospital emergency rooms with complications from spontaneous and induced abortion burdens understaffed, undersupplied, and overcrowded facilities.

Staff training and counselling in hospitals is a third important issue. It is often difficult to distinguish between women who are admitted to hospital because of a miscarriage and those with an incomplete induced abortion. As a result, incidences of stigmatisation are prevalent since hospital staff assume a negative attitude towards the mother. This does not foster her emotional and mental healing and would often lead to psychological trauma that could scar the mother for life.

The need for preventive measures, such as family planning counseling and reproductive health care, is also very urgent. Post-abortion family planning can help women to avoid repeat unwanted pregnancies and additional unsafe abortions.

Another problem is that pre-abortion patients are sometimes given inadequate information about the procedure they are about to undergo. This again ties in with the arguement for training and counselling of staff in hospitals to ensure the physical, psychological and emotional welfare of the patient is taken into consideration during the entire duration of the procedure. And this should also be done post-abortion. Hence the focus is on treating women as both hospital patients and as people who deserve the emotional support and assistance of hospital staff.

So .... in a nutshell ... abortion should remain illegal BUT the Government must go one step further and ensure that healthcare facilities in hospitals are up to date and equiped to care for mothers who medically require an abortion. The legal repercussions of illegally procured abortions need to be revised to convey the no-nonsense stance the Government should have towards such procedures.

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