In Summary
  • Government statistics show seven women die every day, 2,555 yearly, from unsafe abortion.

  • But despite being unacceptable human rights violations targeting only women and girls, the deaths are preventable.

  • Part of achieving the ‘Big Four Agenda’ requires that we take measures to stop the grim statistic of fatalities from unsafe abortions.

In April 2012, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights released a report on the status of sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls in Kenya. This was the result of a public inquiry following a complaint by the Federation of Women Lawyers and the Centre for Reproductive Rights that, despite having in place a progressive legal and policy framework, women and girls still face sexual and reproductive health violations.

ARBITRARILY DRAWN

The KNCHR cited several barriers that impede access to quality sexual and reproductive health services — including unavailability of abortion and post-abortion services, lack of accurate and comprehensive information and high cost of services.

Subsequently, women and girls are forced to procure unsafe abortions even when they qualify for professional services under Article 26 (4) of the Constitution.

Government statistics show seven women die every day, 2,555 yearly, from unsafe abortion. But despite being unacceptable human rights violations targeting only women and girls, the deaths are preventable.

A key recommendation made by the commission was the need for the government to develop standards and guidelines providing guidance on implementation of the constitutional provision.

These were to ensure access to safe legal abortion, which is key to ending preventable maternal death.

While the Ministry of Health actualised the recommendation in September 2012, when it published the “Standards and Guidelines for Reducing Morbidity and Mortality from Unsafe Abortion in Kenya”, the gains were short-lived.

The guidelines were arbitrarily withdrawn in December 2013, followed by a memo in February 2014 that banned the training of health workers on safe abortion care or the use of the drug Medabon for medical abortion.

LANDMARK DECISION

In a landmark decision delivered on June 12, this year, the High Court ruled that the ministry’s 2014 withdrawal of the guidelines and its subsequent ban on abortion-related training were arbitrary and unlawful.

The guidelines are a vital policy document that guides healthcare providers on when and how to provide safe and legal abortion and post-abortion services. It also provides a framework on how to prevent unintended pregnancies through access to accurate sexual and reproductive health information.

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