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Safe abortions save lives

Updated: 27 June 2014

The abortion meant that I could continue going to school, says Elisabeth, who was raped when she helped her mother deliver soaps. Since 2010 there are now more possibilities to terminate unwanted pregnancies safely and legally.

Before 14-year-old Elisabeth went in for the procedure over a month ago, she had never heard of an abortion. She did not know what sex was either and has never had a boyfriend. Indeed, the story behind her abortion is also the story of the vulnerability of girls and women in a tough reality.

Elisabeth is a promising pupil and football player. She looks younger than her 14 years and is quite shy and softly spoken. Her mother makes soap, and in the evening the children help her to distribute it to customers. On one such evening a couple of months ago, Elisabeth's world was turned upside-down.

 “When I came to this man's house, he suddenly closed and locked the door and then forced himself on me. I couldn't scream because he put his hand over my mouth. Afterwards he said that I wasn't allowed to tell anyone, or else something terrible would happen.”

Scared and completely exhausted, Elisabeth did not tell anyone about what had happened.

 “My body was so tired and I was in such a daze when I came home that I didn't know what to say. And so I was ashamed.”

When she realized she had missed her period, Elisabeth eventually spoke with her older sister, who promised to help her so that she would not be thrown out of school. They looked for the man who had raped Elisabeth but he had moved out. All she wanted was to continue to attend school, and the man who had caused her suffering had disappeared.

The possibility to have an abortion safely and legally in a clinic was her way out. Her older sister had heard about the clinic in Kisumu, a member of Family Health Options Kenya which has nine clinics in seven different locations throughout the country. This is not something that Elisabeth is concerned with. For her, the most important thing was that she avoided subjecting herself to unnecessary risks and joining the global statistic as one of the women who die every minute from pregnancy-related complications.

Until very recently, abortion was in principle illegal in Kenya. A complicated inquiry was required in order to receive permission to have an abortion. Since the new constitution came into force in Autumn 2010, it has become significantly simpler, and the approval of a qualified healthcare professional is all that is required in order for the procedure to be allowed.

Following this, Kisumu became the town with the highest number of abortions carried out in clinics. Phoebe Wafula is a nurse and has performed many of these abortions.

 “At first I thought that abortions were unethical, that you're killing someone. But then my friend died after having a backstreet abortion; we found her in a pool of blood. The same thing happened to my cousin. At nursing school I realized that if you do it right, do it well and give support at the same time, you help others.”

Even though the conditions in Kenya today are infinitely more favourable, the statistics still tell a dreary tale. Muraguri Muchira, head of Family Health Options Kenya, explains that in Kenya alone, 300, 000 unsafe or incomplete abortions are carried out every year, from which 3000 women die, constituting around 30 per cent of maternal mortality in the country.

 “Abortion must become less of a taboo and more a matter of health,” says Elly Mungumya, head of IPPF's regional office in Kenya.

He feels that after years of campaigning, there has been a breakthrough, and finally legislation is in place which gives women a greater say over their pregnancy. What remains now is to increase awareness of women's rights and to increase the accessibility and scope of the service.

The names of the women in this article are fictitious and certain facts have been changed, as they wished to remain anonymous and yet tell their stories in order to increase understanding of abortion and related issues.

Page owner: Department for Africa

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