Parliament to host public hearings on abortion

The planned hearings stem from the revival of the pro-choice movement in mid-2020, which saw large scale pro-choice protests erupt across Namibia and more than 62 000 Namibians sign a petition in favour of legalising abortion.

08 October 2021 | Local News

JANA-MARI SMITH







WINDHOEK

Namibians in favour of reproductive justice and abortion law reform and those battling to retain Namibia’s restrictive abortion law will be given a chance to air their views before parliamentarians.

The dates of the public hearings on abortion are still to be set, parliamentarian spokesperson David Nahongandja said this week.

The planned hearings stem from the revival of the pro-choice movement in mid-2020, which saw large scale pro-choice protests erupt across Namibia and more than 62 000 Namibians sign a petition in favour of legalising abortion.

The reboot of the debate sparked outcry by anti-abortionists opposing reform of the Abortion and Sterilisation Act 2 of 1975, that was inherited from apartheid-era South Africa.

A petition titled ‘pro-life’ has attracted over 15 000 signatures.

Nahongandja said a third petition was also received by Parliament last year, signed by members of the Omaheke Coalition of Churches.

The three petitions were referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Gender and Family Affairs.

On 20 September, the committee decided to first consider the two larger public petitions.

“Due to legal aspects involved in the petition, the committee also agreed to host joint public hearings with the Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs,” he said.

The public hearings will be conducted in Windhoek and in the regions.

Arduous task

The abortion law dictating the rights of women was scrapped in South Africa in 1996, making way for legalised access to safe abortions. Many Namibians, who are able to afford it, access safe abortions in South Africa.

Legal and human rights activists have pointed out that even where abortion is permitted in Namibia, as in cases of incest, rape and in medical emergencies, obtaining permission is an arduous task.

The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) outlined the necessary steps: Two medical practitioners must provide a certificate verifying the grounds for abortion. Where the basis for the abortion is unlawful intercourse (rape or incest), a certificate from a magistrate is also necessary.

Abortion in any other circumstances is a criminal offence for both the woman who seeks it and the person who performs it. The punishment is a fine of up to N$5 000 or imprisonment for up to five years, or both.

“The criminalisation of abortion has driven many Namibian women to unsafe abortions. The contribution of unsafe abortion to maternal deaths is not known, but the little data that is available suggests that it may account for 12 to 16% of Namibia’s annual maternal deaths,” the LAC wrote last year.

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