Skip to main content
December 15, 2018

Safe abortion issue takes centre stage in High Court

Judges Mumbi Ngugi, Aggrey Muchelule, and George Odunga in court yesterday / COLLINS KWEYU
Judges Mumbi Ngugi, Aggrey Muchelule, and George Odunga in court yesterday / COLLINS KWEYU

A five-judge bench convened yesterday to hear arguments in a suit calling for the government to reinstate guidelines on safe abortions.

Joseph Karanja, a leading obstetrician and gynaecologist, urged the High Court to compel the government to reinstate the guidelines.

He said it will save the lives of women who are at risk from illegal, botched abortions.

The health expert said Kenyatta National Hospital is grappling with 10 to 15 cases of botched abortions daily. The bench includes judges Aggrey Muchelule, Mumbi Ngugi, George Odunga, Lydia Achode and John Mativo. Karanja said that although abortion is illegal, it should be easy for medical practitioners to be equipped to help mothers who develop high-risk complications from unsafe abortions.

Read: What it is like to have unsafe abortion

He also cited eclampsia, preeclampsia and cervical cancer.

Karanja is supporting a petition filed by two NGOs — Fida Kenya and the Centre for Reproductive Rights. They are challenging a move by the Ministry of Health to withdraw guidelines on how to perform safe abortions.

In 2013, the ministry banned the use of Medallion. It is a combination of Mifepristone and Misoprostol used to induce abortions.

The ministry also banned healthcare workers from participating in any training on safe abortion, a move that has been criticised by health workers.

The medic acknowledged that abortions are sought for reasons other than medical complications and the health of the mother.

Karanja told the court he has managed critical conditions using Medabon and advocates for its use to save lives.

He said the guidelines do not offer termination of pregnancy outside the law.

“Abortion on demand is illegal. The guidelines will only assist health practitioners to procure safe abortions,” he told the bench. The medic said Medabon is legal and is used in private facilities.

More: Open door for safe abortion, state told

The obstetrician said he is unaware of any cases of misuse of Medabon, but admitted that other drugs like penicillin have been abused.

“There are dangerous drugs out there being misused, but it is because of ignorance and lack of proper training,” Karanja said.

The witness said the guidelines were withdrawn following protests, especially from faith-based organisations.

“We are pro-life and our patients are both the unborn child and the mother. But when faced to choose the life of ether of them, we choose the mother,” Karanja said.

“A foetus is not a human, though they have potential to become a person.”

A teenager who suffers from chronic health problem following an unsafe abortion wants the court to compel the government to advocate for reproductive health services.

Fida Kenya and the Centre for Reproductive Rights say the Health ministry’s actions violate the rights of both women and health workers under the Constitution and international law.

The two say withdrawal of the guidelines and the drug violates women and health workers’ rights.

Other parties to the case are Article 19, the National Gender and Equality Commission and Physicians for Human Rights. The suit is opposed by the Kenya Christian Professional Forum, Catholic Doctors Association and the Attorney General.

The issue of legalising abortion and protecting women and health workers during abortions is emotive. This is especially so as faith-based organisations take a hardline stance.

Read: Expect a rise in backstreet abortions, health experts warn

The Republic of Ireland will hold a referendum on Friday that could change its stance on abortion.

“The Methodist Church would never dare to tell members how to vote. We believe in freedom of conscience but we do feel we have a role,” Lay Leader of the Methodist Church Dr Fergus O’Ferrall said.

“Our Council of Social Responsibility in January brought forward a very nuanced statement again asking for the exceptional cases to be met and for investment in women’s healthcare, but yes, there are different views as there are in every single organisation.

“Whatever the result, I think we are going to have a substantial public debate around legislation if it’s carried.

“If it’s not carried, the issues are not going to go away.”

The referendum is about taking action that would result in the repeal of the 8th amendment, allowing the Irish government to change the law on abortion. It is illegal unless a woman’s life is at substantial risk. Voting yes would repeal the amendment, while voting no would keep it in place.

Read: After safe abortions, 20 girls return to class

Click here for the latest political news

Poll of the day