Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) has expressed optimism that the faith community will endorse the reformed abortion laws and policies to ensure women and girls, mostly from poor families, are not dying of unsafe abortions complications.
According to statistics, Malawi has one of the highest Maternal Mortality Ratios in the world with 675 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies, and unsafe abortion contributes about 17 percent of the deaths.
Restrictive abortion laws and policies have been forcing woman and girls to seek unsafe abortion services from untrained people with figures showing that about 70,000 women have abortions in Malawi every year translating into 24 abortions for every 1,000 women aged between 15 and 44.
In an interview with Nyasa Times on Thursday during a two-day Religious Leaders Dialogue on Maternal Health, Human Rights and Abortion Law Reform in Mangochi, MCC General Secretary Bishop Doctor Gilford Immanuel Matonga was optimistic that the faith community will back the reformed abortion laws yet to be tabled in Parliament.
“It is necessary for the church to consider adding new grounds on which safe abortions can be allowed. We would want to sensitize faith community on grounds to provide for safe abortions,” said Bishop Matonga.
He added: “The Proposed bill gives guidance on how safe abortions can be done. After being properly informed, the church will be able to approve. The problem is that the faith community was not well communicated. People think the church is forcing leaders to endorse the bill. There is a need for leaders to be fully informed, and I believe they will endorse the bill”.
However, Matonga was quick to point out that the church stand will remain the same on free-for-all abortions, saying the faith community will only support safe abortions with restrictions.
“The church opposes abortion on demand; meaning if a woman is pregnant should not just seek abortion at free will. The proposed law gives three grounds on why abortion can be done. One is when she is raped, when her life is threatened by the pregnancy and on incest thus when a child is impregnated by a family member. But also when there is a malformation of the fetus- no proper development of the child in the womb”.
The two-day meeting was aimed at informing religious leaders on the proposed law to ensure they add value to the discussion from an informed position but also to have dialogue as church leaders on the magnitude of unsafe abortion.
Bishop Matonga said the meeting helped to address issues of maternal health; human rights and proposed law on unsafe abortions since there have been a lot of comments made and issues discussed out of ignorance.
“Usually unsafe abortion is associated with prostitutes and women of immoral conduct, but most of our members are inducing self abortions. Unsafe abortions are becoming a drain on the economy.
“The church has to look for ways how to help to reduce deaths of unsafe abortions, improve communication of information on dangers of unsafe abortions, and contribute to what is being proposed in the new bill as faith community. Church says determines what politicians do”.
Guest speaker to the meeting was Medical Association of Malawi president gynecologist Dr Edgar Kuchingale who highlighted the magnitude of unsafe abortions in Malawi, saying the reformed law will protect lives of poor women and girls who cannot afford proper medical care.
“People mostly doing unsafe abortions are married and they are church members. And most of the women that are dying of unsafe abortions are rural and poor. Nowadays it’s rare to see rich women dying of unsafe abortion because the situation has changed now,” said Kuchingale.
Kuchingale said the situation in the country is still worse in as far as unsafe abortions are concerned, disclosing that more than 50 percent of women do not use family planning methods resulting in unwanted pregnancies.
And Bishop Matonga agreed with Kuchingale saying, the church is not communicating well to its members on available contraceptives.
According to statistics, about 31, 000 Malawian women are treated for complications of unsafe abortion annually; 50 percent are young girls below 25 years of age while 80 percent are married women and 64 percent are rural girls and women.
Women in Malawi, according to information, seek abortions due to poverty and inability to support more children; the desire of young girls to remain in school; extra-marital pregnancy; partner insistence and parental insistence. They also seek abortion after getting pregnancy from prostitution and when the pregnancy is too close to the previous pregnancy and also pregnancy that is the result of defilement, rape or incest.
Others abort to avoid being expelled from the Church or restrictions in work policies on maternity leave or restrictions in private medical insurance schemes and also when the relationship is abusive.
In Malawi approximately 70,000 women have abortions every year and 30,000 of those women are treated for complications of unsafe abortion. Public run health care facilities spend about US$300,000-US$500,000 annually in caring for post-abortion care implications.