Malawi Pastors Support Abortion Bill
Alarmed at the shocking deaths and serious injuries among the 70 000 Malawian women who seek backstreet abortions each year, some clerics are now backing a bill aimed at preventing unsafe abortions.
"I am shocked to learn that many girls and women are admitted to our hospitals every year as a result of complications sustained during procurement of unsafe abortions," lamented Prophet Amos Tchuma of the Faith of God Ministeries based in the northern Malawi city of Mzuzu.
"Just imagine, some women use bicycle spokes, cassava sticks and poisonous substances to induce abortions just because we have a restrictive law."
Lack of knowledge
Regardless of his church's stand, Tchuma said he supports government's move to review the outdated abortion law so that women can access safe abortion services in public hospitals.
"Why should a schoolgirl, who has been raped, be jailed for terminating her unwanted pregnancy?" he asked.
While more conservative clerics equate abortion to murder, Tchuma says some religious leaders are opposing law reform due to their ignorance.
"Lack of knowledge has caused a lot of... misinformation in religious circles. Religion has become a fertile ground for breeding fundamentalism and fanaticism because of lack of knowledge," he told News24 in an interview.
According to Tchuma, abortion cannot be equated to murder as it is not defined as such in the Bible.
‘Is it wrong to support efforts to save women’s lives?’
He is not the only pastor who supports abortion law reform as some Presbyterian and Anglican clerics are also backing the move.
"Many women are dying as a result of procuring backstreet abortions. Is it wrong for me to support efforts that will save lives of women?" asked Rev. Father Martin Kalimbe of the Anglican Church.
"If women, who could have died due to unsafe abortions, are saved, the church will take the opportunity to counsel and minister to them."
This comes at a time when Malawi has drafted a Termination of Pregnancy Bill which awaits Parliament's enactment.
Grounds for pregnancy termination in the bill include rape, incest, foetus deformation and pregnancies that endanger women's lives or may cause mental or physical health complications.
Currently, abortion is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in jail in Malawi.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health show that over 70 000 women seek backstreet abortions each year, 31 000 of which result in complications, including death.
Abortions cause 17% of maternal deaths in Malawi while post-abortion care, which is offered in public hospitals, costs the government nearly $1m a year.
Among the leading critics of the bill are Roman Catholic bishops who denounce abortion both on the pulpit and in their pastoral letters.
"Through the agents of the culture of death, campaigning for abortion legislation, human life is under attack," Catholic bishops observed in their recent pastoral letter.
The letter, which was read in all Catholic churches in Malawi, added: "In these circumstances, we wish to reaffirm that every person is precious, that people are more important than things; and that the measure of every society is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person."
But others have accused conservative churches of being hypocritical on issues of abortion as studies show that most women who procure abortions in Malawi are Christians.
According to a Ministry of Health study titled "Abortion in Malawi: Results of a Study of Incidence and Magnitude of Complications of Unsafe Abortion," of the 70 000 women and girls who terminate unwanted pregnancies each year, Protestant Christian women topped the list at 28.5%, Catholic women at 23.3%, other Christians at 22.7% and Muslims at 10.3%.
While Malawi waits for its lawmakers to enact the new law, most of its neighbouring countries, including Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa, have liberal abortion laws.
World Health Organisation statistics show that most poor countries in Africa with high maternal mortality rates are stuck with draconian reproductive laws inherited from the colonial era.