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OPINION

SHIKO KIHIKA: Family planning for all is better for Kenya

US Supreme Court's decision to reverse women's right to abortion has been felt in Kenya.

In Summary

• Sexual reproductive health and rights goes beyond abortion care and access.

• How do we ensure that all Kenyan women and girls access their right to the highest attainable standard of health?

US Supreme Court's decision to reverse women's right to abortion has been felt in Kenya.
US Supreme Court's decision to reverse women's right to abortion has been felt in Kenya.

In June 2022, the US Supreme Court officially reversed Roe v. Wade, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion, upheld for nearly a half century, no longer exists.

In the judgment, Justice Samuel Alito stated that the 1973 Roe ruling and repeated subsequent high court decisions reaffirming Roe "must be overruled" because they were "egregiously wrong," the arguments "exceptionally weak" and so "damaging" that they amounted to "an abuse of judicial authority." Within minutes of the judgment, this was already trending in Kenya and in the days to come, numerous conversations on digital and mass media were being had.

Why would a Supreme Court judgment in a country many kilometers away from Africa have such a meaningful and profound impact to us on the continent? Well, whether we like it or not, America’s influence on societies everywhere remains profound. Popular culture, media, tenets of democracy, social activism taking place in the USA have for decades reverberated to the rest of the world.

The influence has been largely positive but with the rise of Trumpism and right-wing politics there has been cause to worry. A 2019 Pew Research Centre article observed that more people around the world see U.S. power and influence as a ‘major threat’ to their country.

After the 1973 Roe vs Wade judgment, around 60 countries expanded laws or policies related to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Unfortunately after the reversal weeks ago, we are seeing countries back-pedal on SRHR gains.

Despite our political sovereignty as a continent, key women’s rights initiatives are funded and sustained by the West. In an article by Kenyan human rights lawyer Stephanie Musho, ‘The overturning of Roe v Wade could harm women across the world’, she notes that ‘95 per cent of sexual and reproductive health aid comes from the US. Therefore, African governments often take cues from policy decisions made in Washington due to the latter’s financial muscle’.

This comes at a critical time for the East African countries as legislators at the East African Legislative Assembly reflects on the East African Community SRHR bill. The bill which was tabled by Kennedy Mukulia, a Member of the East African Legislative Assembly, hopes to see that Universal Healthcare across East African countries integrates sexual reproductive health needs to it. The bill also seeks to put an end to harmful practices against women and girls in East Africa.

Hope is not all lost. Ministers in Sierra Leone have taken a major step towards decriminalising abortion and overturning the country’s colonial-era law, in a move hailed by campaigners and women’s rights activists. President Julius Maada Bio said his Cabinet had unanimously backed a bill on risk-free motherhood, which would expand access to abortion in a country where terminations are only permitted when a mother’s life is at risk.

Sexual reproductive health and rights goes beyond abortion care and access. It is the push to curb teen pregnancies that have plagued the continent, the need to protect girls who are at risk of female genital mutilation, the need to ensure access to sanitary menstrual health products, dignified maternal health and access to consistent and affordable contraceptive options.

As we celebrate World population day whose theme is A world of 8 billion: Towards a resilient future for all - Harnessing opportunities and ensuring rights and choices for all"-how do we ensure that all Kenyan women and girls access their right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services and reproductive health care as envisioned by Article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya?

What would it take for the African continent to rise up and take decisive actions to ensure our girls and women realize positive reproductive health outcomes?

#FPForAll is indeed #Better4Kenya


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