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Source: The Botswana Gazette
The debate over whether abortion should be allowed on-demand or not appears to be far from over. While some organizations and prominent individuals aggressively call for its legalization, others defend the status quo on moral grounds.

 

  • Those who are pro-choice call for its legalization
  •  Women said to be crossing into SA in large numbers where it is legal

The debate over whether abortion should be allowed on-demand or not appears to be far from over. While some organizations and prominent individuals aggressively call for its legalization, others defend the status quo on moral grounds.

Abortion is strictly prohibited in Botswana where it carries stiff penalties, although in 1991 the Penal Code was amended to allow it in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy under special circumstances:

•    If the pregnancy was a result of rape, incest, or defilement;
•    If the woman is mentally deficient;
•    If the woman’s physical or mental health is at risk;
•    If the child would be born with a serious physical or mental abnormality.

The abortion could only be performed after two medical doctors had approved it.

Those who advocate for free abortion on demand say the law denies women control over their bodies; on the other hand those who are against it argue that it cannot be justified on moral grounds.

The Department of Women ‘s Affairs in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs once reported that “although abortion in Botswana is legal-- within certain limitations -- in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, bureaucratic delays and far-flung health clinics encourage illegal backstreet abortions.”

The Botswana Network of Ethics and Law director, who is also a human rights lawyer, Mr. Uyapo Ndadi, strongly believes that abortion should be allowed on demand.

“I believe in the power of autonomy and feminity. If you have conceived and you consciously decide to terminate the pregnancy, why should other people bother? At any rate, in law, life begins once one is born and born alive,” said Ndadi.

He continued: “You might abort and be charged for terminating the pregnancy of an already dead foetus; imagine! That's why we have natural cases of miscarriage.”

Ndadi said abortion won’t go away despite Botswana laws not permitting it, adding that if you are a law abiding person, you cross the border into South Africa and have it done legally.

“You can even tell our police that you committed abortion outside Botswana and no legal action would be open to them to take. If you are not a law abiding person you can do a backstreet abortion. There are many such cases locally and it’s a pity the law fuels them,” he said.

For her part, the Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Family Welfare Association, Cally Ramalefo, said BOFWA was concerned within its Abortion Strategy about the high numbers of unsafe abortions reported by the Ministry of Health in Botswana. She said it was time the government and civil society organizations redoubled efforts to curb or reduce the numbers.

“It is high time young women stood up and used the semi-liberal abortion law in Botswana. Experience has shown us that the process for seeking safe abortion is long and cumbersome, but at the end of the day it is safe.”

Ramalefo said BOFWA and its partners strongly advocate for the quick facilitation of safe abortion within the premise of Botswana law.

“We believe in ensuring women’s health and rights; safe abortion services must be available to women in conditions that recognize the woman’s right to choose and decide, free of discrimination, coercion or violence”.

Safe abortion services should be provided within a broader reproductive health context, Ramalefo said. She said legalizing abortion was a burning issue in Botswana due to societies moralistic pressures.

“We need to educate ourselves about sexuality and reproductive health and need to be helped to clarify our values that we mostly impose on others. Women with means are crossing to South Africa to get professional services while the poor go to quacks and the unfortunate go to the grave,” said Ramalefo.

But the Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organizations (BOCONGO) Gender Sector is adamant that abortion should not be legalized.

“The conditions stated by our Penal Code are sufficient. As a country fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, it will be counterproductive to condone that,” said Chigedze Chinyepi, BOCONGO gender sector coordinator. She called for debate on the matter, adding that, “maybe that’s only when we can make a sound decision as a nation.”

For his part, Rev. Rupert Hambira, an academic theologian and situation analyst, said there are three positions in Christian ethics on the question of abortion.

“The first one is that the unborn is not fully human, thus some supporting abortion; the second is that the unborn is fully human, and the last is that the unborn is potentially human and these ones may allow abortion under some circumstances,” he said.

“Prochoice abortion argue that no unwanted child is supposed to be born and argues that the rights of the mother precede those of an unborn baby. Some however say life begins at conception .So there is no meeting point,” Hambira said.

A private gynaecologist Dr. Baron Matonhodze, from the Gaborone Private Hospital, pointed out that women in Botswana seek abortion in large numbers.

“Almost every week I get a client or two saying, ‘this was a mistake’, and some I give addresses to go to South Africa where it’s allowed.” He said the Ministry of Health was unresponsive.

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