By Philemon Jambaya
A FEMALE sexual rights advocacy group, Katswe Sistahood has implored government to repeal the Termination of Pregnancy Act (ToP) which outlaws abortions saying it should be replaced by legislation that suits current times.
The Termination of Pregnancy Act is a Rhodesian enacted law which is still in Zimbabwean statutes.
The law only allows lawful abortions only when pregnancy is a result of rape, sexual intercourse with a mentally handicapped person or after incestuous relationship.
But women’s rights groups want the same to apply to pregnancies which arise out of any form of sexual intercourse.
Katswe Sistahood programs officer Nancy Nothando Chabuda said a totally new legislation to deal with unwanted pregnancies was ideal for the current environment.
“The ToP is just too old, it does not take into account the changing environment and has limited conditions on which an abortion can be done,” Chabuda said.
“We need a comprehensive Act that puts into account issues of health, social and economical wellbeing of the mother and incest should include relatives within our culture.”
Chabuda added that safe abortion facilities should be made accessible to every woman in Zimbabwe.
“Generally it should allow any women to have an abortion whenever they need it” added Chabuda.
The taboo surrounding abortion leads to thousands of women dying every year as they try to terminate pregnancies through septic ways.
Because safe, legal abortion is inaccessible, an unknown number of women each year resort to illegal abortions, many of which are performed under unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
The practice has often resulted in deaths which activists say could be avoided if access to safe abortion was introduced in Zimbabwe and unintended pregnancies were prevented.
Despite it being a crime, over 70,000 illegal abortions are performed in Zimbabwe every year, according to a 2005 IRIN report.
There is a clear and increasing demand for it.
Rampant poverty, unavailability of contraceptives, poor sex education, shift in cultural or religious values, the increased need to limit family size and the general emancipation of women has fuelled this demand.
Given the figures and circumstances, there seems to be a need to revisit the laws on abortion.
While it is debatable whether an outright legalisation like in neighbouring South Africa where abortions are permitted on demand and no reasons are required provided a woman is less than 20 weeks pregnant, is the answer, there certainly needs to be more practical, efficient and affordable ways of achieving legal abortions.
Women’s reasons for terminating pregnancy vary widely, but investigations on patients seeking post abortion care reveal certain patterns.
Adolescents’ primary motivation include feeling ashamed because of the stigma attached to unwed motherhood, wanting to continue with school, having been abandoned by their partner, feeling too young to be a mother and being unable to afford to care for a baby.
For instance, in a research which was done by this reporter revealed that most young girls wanted to avoid being expelled from school, avoid revealing a secret relationship, protect the health of their existing children and avoid revealing that they had violated cultural norms, such as postpartum sexual abstinence.