Abortion law must be reformed – LAC

Despite the law allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest, in the last three years, only 13 legal abortions were obtained. This, the LAC said, is because the process is tedious and unfriendly.

21 October 2021 | Health

JEMIMA BEUKES







WINDHOEK

The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) recommends that the existing abortion law be reformed, while the police say the 195 reported illegal abortions and concealment of births investigated is but a glimpse into a much greater issue.

The public hearings on abortion in Namibia continue today.

During yesterday’s session, Dianne Hubbard presented the position of the LAC, which supports law reform to expand freedom of choice in respect of women’s reproductive rights.

The LAC also argued that abortion is a personal decision which should not be mandated by the law in the absence of any scientific or human rights-based consensus, adding that religious views cannot be imposed by law in a secular state like Namibia.

Poor women suffer most

The current law does not prevent abortion, but only restricts access to safe and legal abortion for women with the least resources, the LAC said.

“Women with means can buy morning-after pills or travel to South Africa for a safe and legal abortion. Women without means are pushed into continuing unwanted pregnancies or having abortions by unsafe methods,” Hubbard added.

The LAC also highlighted the staggering rates of gender-based violence (GBV) and rape in Namibia, and said while the law allows for abortion in the event of rape or incest, the process is tedious and unfriendly, which ultimately leaves survivors without practical access to abortion.

Hubbard added that girls and women who are coerced into sex because of varying reasons should not be forced to continue unwanted pregnancies.

Woman’s burden

“The failure of fathers to pay maintenance or otherwise take responsibility for their children has been one of the most persistent gender issues in Namibia since independence. The maintenance law has been improved, but it is still not functioning as optimally as it might, and men are not being sufficiently socialised to share responsibility for the consequences of sexual activities and to play both a financial and an emotional role in the upbringing of the children they father,” the LAC noted.

“The restrictive abortion law marks yet another area where women are expected to bear the consequences of sexual activities, while men frequently walk away without shouldering a fair share of the responsibility.”

Meanwhile, Major-General Marie Nainda of the Namibian Police said in the last three years, only 13 legal abortions were obtained, likely in the event of rape or incest as prescribed by the Abortion and Sterilisation Act of 1975.

She added that with illegal abortions, the police struggle to collect relevant evidence to lead to successful prosecution, given that abortion is a complex crime and the perpetrator’s main intention is to conceal.

“Sometimes, a dead foetus may be found in one location; however, the abortion was not conducted there. It makes it very difficult for us to link the crime scene to the suspects.

“Concealment of birth is difficult to identify because we would need a DNA sample to make up a case and the lack thereof will lead to opening an inquest. But it is very difficult to have a successful investigation because you often rely on hearsay,” she said.

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