May 29, 2007

Government considers legalising abortion to stem maternal deaths

Citing a high rate of maternal deaths due to illegal, unsafe abortions, Mozambique policymakers are considering legalising the procedure. The country may eventually become one of only a handful in Africa where abortion is available on demand. The push for the new legislation, officially introduced earlier this year, has come from the Mozambican health ministry, arguing that unsafe abortion is the third leading cause of death among pregnant women in the country. Mozambique has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world.
Botched abortions accounted for an estimated 11 percent of maternal fatalities registered at the central hospital in Maputo, the nationís capital, in the 1990s. More than 40 percent of the cases of serious pregnancy complications treated at the hospitalís maternity clinic are said to be the result of clandestine abortions. "These are only the cases of people who went to the central hospital," said GraÁa Samo, executive director of the Womenís Forum, an umbrella organisation for womenís rights' nongovernmental organisations. "It does not count the people who donít come in, who die in rural clinics. And often when someone dies, the family will never say what really happened".
Other than some media coverage, there has been very little public debate on the issue of legalisation, and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in the country have complained that their voice, which is firmly against abortion, has been shut out of what they consider to be a closed process. Apart from being a sin, Church leaders argue, abortion is also a foreign import contrary to African cultural norms. In Mozambique, the law outlawing abortion, except in cases where the motherís life or health is endangered, dates to the late 19th century, when the mainly Catholic Portuguese controlled the country. The other major creed in Mozambique is Islam, a faith which also does not support abortion.
Mozambique is one of 21 countries to ratify the 2003 Maputo Protocol, which addresses womenís rights in Africa, including reproductive rights. (IRIN)

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