Focus abortion debate on rights, not religion - Boois

01 July 2020 | Government

JANA-MARI SMITH

WINDHOEK



The woman who revived Namibia's abortion debate this month has written an open letter to parliament asking that the debate on abortion law reform, slated to take place tomorrow, be grounded on facts and human and women's rights.

By Monday afternoon, 35 000 signatures of support had been added to the 'Legalise Abortion in Namibia' petition, created and launched on 12 June by activist Beauty Boois.

The petition has reignited strong public and political discussions, with many arguing that the apartheid-era law under which abortion is illegal, except under circumstances of rape, incest and the heath of the mother or foetus, should be repealed.

In the letter, Boois urged “every single Namibian member of parliament to make their arguments based on facts and to carefully scrutinise the current abortion law, to assess whether or not the law violates the human rights of Namibian women”.

Boois emphasises “abortion rights are a public health issue as well as a reproductive justice issue and a human rights issue”.

And, as a secular state, Boois urged government leaders to leave religion and personal moral views out of the discussions.



Reproductive autonomy

Weighing in on the heated debate over the weekend, First Lady Monica Geingos tweeted in response to arguments linking personal responsibility and unwanted pregnancies. In one tweet, she clarified that “sexual activity, whether by choice or coercion, without the use of effective contraceptives, is the 'root cause' of unintended pregnancy”. “The decision to remain pregnant, or not, is about reproductive autonomy. Saying women seek an abortion 'for fun' is gaslighting,” Geingos tweeted, before adding: “The essence of the pro-choice argument is personal responsibility, choice and consequence - it has never been about children born out of wedlock, fatherlessness or single parenthood. This is why this discussion needs evidence-based arguments, lest we tie ourselves into knots.”

In mid-June, parliamentarian Mandela Kapere wrote on Facebook: “Access to safe abortion should be an option available for any woman in this day and age, not only the wealthy.”

Kapere explained that his support for legalising abortion is driven by a “class perspective, and in that regard, all indications are that access to safe and legal abortions will go a long way to restore dignity and provide options for poor, rural and vulnerable women, who do not have alternative choices”.



Anti-abortion views

While the pro-choice movement has gathered momentum and attracted increasing support, anti-abortion views remain rife in Namibia, grounded primarily in religious arguments.

A petition advocating for the rejection of legalising abortion had gained over 13 000 signatures by Monday.

Gender equality minister Doreen Sioka made it clear recently that she did not support the move to legalise abortion in Namibia.

However, several medical doctors, including health minister Kalumbi Shangula and former health minister Bernard Haufiku, have gone on record that they support law reform.



Debate

Last week, deputy health minister Esther Muinjangue tabled a motion to debate abortion in parliament. The debate has been postponed to tomorrow. Muinjangue said despite the difficult topic, leaders “cannot turn a blind eye”.

“Whether legal or not, abortion is a reality in our society and hence the need to debate it, (and) weigh the pros and cons for us as a country to make informed decisions.” She said it is time for all Namibians, including church, political and traditional leaders “to become more open-minded and to unpack the advantages as well as disadvantages of abortion”.

She added that the debate “is not a yes or no issue” and requires serious research into the challenges and benefits of legalising abortion and looking at what other countries are doing.

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