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December 15, 2018

Abortion: Rights group sues ministry, officials over Marie Stopes ban

Maries Stopes has been banned from offering safe abortion services. /FILE
Maries Stopes has been banned from offering safe abortion services. /FILE

The Centre for Reproductive Rights on Friday sued the Ministry of Health and other state officials over the recent ban on Marie Stopes over safe abortions.

The lobby group filed a suit against the CS for Health, the Director of Medical Services, the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board, the Kenya Film and Classification Board and its CEO Ezekiel Mutua.

Co-counsel Sofia Rajab-Leteipan of Leteipan and Associates Advocates filed a case at the High Court challenging the KMPDB and medical regulatory authority on a decision to ban Marie Stopes from providing any abortion and post-abortion care.

This is despite the Constitution allowing abortion when the health or the life of the woman is in danger or in emergency cases.

Read: Marie Stopes banned from conducting abortions in Kenya

"Marie Stopes Kenya, an organisation that provides quality, affordable reproductive health care to poor, vulnerable, and the under-served populations has also been banned from providing reproductive health information by the KFCB," read a statement. 

"This follows allegations that the charity was promoting abortion through a radio campaign they ran on Radio Africa."

In Kenya, abortion is allowed if in the opinion of a medical provider a woman’s life or health is at risk, or in emergency situations. Post-abortion care is essential emergency care, care to which every woman is entitled.

Marie Stopes said the action by the KMPDU and the KFCB undermine women's and girls’ access to reproductive health services.

It also denies them information, including access to safe and legal abortion and violates their human rights, the firm said.

"In addition, the ban by the medical board has had a chilling effect on healthcare service providers who are now in fear of providing these essential, life-saving services for fear of harassment and prosecution," Marie Stopes said.

In the petition, Marie Stopes said an estimated 464,690 women got an abortion in Kenya in 2012 and nearly 120,000 women were admitted to public health facilities that year for severe complications.

According to a study conducted by African Population and Health Research Centre and the Ministry of Health, unsafe abortion accounts for a quarter of maternal deaths in Kenya.

"Any ban on reproductive health services is a violation of the Constitution and fundamental human rights and is an affront to women and girls," said Evelyne Opondo, senior regional director for Africa, at the Centre for Reproductive Rights.

"We have seen that when governments limit or prevent qualified healthcare providers from providing abortion services, women and girls are forced to pursue unsafe and harmful alternatives," she said.

Opondo said women of reproductive age need to access information that will enable them to make informed decisions about their bodies and lives.

"It is, therefore, the government’s obligation to put in place policies and guidelines that address access to safe abortion services and ensure the full implementation of those policies,” Opondo said.

She argues that women are dying from complications and disabilities that arise from unsafe abortion, yet these deaths are easily preventable.

Opondo wants the government to show commitment towards addressing the issue of unsafe abortion to reduce the high rates of maternal mortality.

Read: Films board bans safe abortions campaign

A report by the United Nations Population Fund shows that 378, 397 adolescent girls became pregnant between July 2016 and June 2017.

More specifically, there were 28,932 girls aged 10-14 and 349,465 girls aged 15-19 who became pregnant.

Since 2015, the Centre for Reproductive Rights and other activists in Kenya have been in court challenging the withdrawal of the standards and guidelines that were meant to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality arising from unsafe abortion.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a case against the Attorney General, the ministry and the Director of Medical Services on behalf of the Federation of Women Lawyers, two community human rights mobilisers, and an adolescent rape survivor, who has since died from complications of unsafe abortion.

The centre is urging the High Court to protect women’s health and lives by restoring safe abortion trainings.  It also wants the Ministry of Health to introduce standards and guidelines that appropriately clarify when legal abortion can be provided.

The final hearing for the standards and guidelines case is scheduled for next week at the High Court.

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