Human rights activists and health experts have revealed that some legal barriers are limiting access to safe and legal Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) including safe abortion.
In commemoration of the ‘Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion’ on Monday organized by the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) in Kampala, Dr. Othiniel Musana, President of the Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Uganda (AOGU), noted that some social, religious policies and legal restrictions have culminated into unsafe abortions.
Whereas Article 22(2) of the Constitution notes that no person has the right to terminate the life of an unborn child except as may be authorized by the law, Dr. Musana said, there is a lack of clarity regarding laws in Uganda.
“A significant number of induced abortions occur in the hospitals and many of them are for medical reasons,” he said.
He added that a significant number of women and health practitioners face harassment, arrest, stigmatization from law enforcers, religious leaders.
Ms. Susan Baluka, from the Legal Support Network, noted that the legal status of abortion in this country is “quite confusing.”
“The current law that we have that comes close to defining what the would-be circumstances where inducing an abortion may be permissible is section 224 of the Penal Code Act and this is an act that provides for exemption to procuring an abortion,” Baluka said.
Adding: “What even creates more confusion is the policy framework that is supposed to guide the health practitioners.”
Dr. Isaac Odongo from IPAS Africa Alliance, noted that the current legal framework in providing SRHR services is “rigid, ambiguous, uncoordinated and difficult to understand.”
“It’s a real mix of difficult things, both for those operating at the facility level and even those at the policy level, including our law enforcers. The framework has pushed the abortion ecosystem underground; gives a fertile ground for people to provide unsafe and uncalled for procedures for women who want to terminate pregnancies,” explained.
Hon. Ayebare Magaret, woman Member of Parliament, Mbarara district remarked, “For termination of pregnancy whether medical or for social reasons, what is important is safe termination, or else women will continue to die. Looking at the 800 abortions procured daily, this becomes alarming.”
She noted that every woman of childbearing age is a candidate for pregnancy termination.
“The policy framework and how it has pushed the termination of pregnancy underground; breading a fertile ground of unsafe abortion bounces back mostly to my rural women who are poor and not powered with family planning methods such as contraceptives,” she added.
Citing other drivers of unsafe abortions, Ms. Juliet Nankanja from Human Rights Awareness and Promotion (HRAPF) pointed to the huge lack of information where people only do things by hearsay and the issue of Gender-Based Violence (GBV).
“People have found themselves in relationships that are not so good and the mother is wondering how she can bring a child in that kind of home,” she said.
She further said that through education, girls can be empowered to prevent unwanted pregnancies that may result in unsafe abortions.
Meanwhile, Dr. Richard Mugahi, Assistant Commissioner for Reproductive Health at the Ministry of Health noted that whereas there is no clear law on dealing with unsafe abortions, there are guiding documents at the operational level like the SRH Implementation Framework and others.
“In our SRHR programs, we have the post-abortion package because we know that abortion is one of the leading causes of maternal death. Last year, abortion was number 3 among the leading causes of death and number 1 among women aged 15-24 years,” he added.