The Kenya’s Ministry of Health Guidelines on Abortion
By Rev Fr Omolo Joachim
Prior to 2010, abortion in Kenya remained largely criminalized and stigmatized with the end result being imprisonment of women and medical providers who offered safe abortion services.
This narrative changed with the promulgation of the Constitution that now allowed for safe abortion on a wide array of circumstances, and similarly complemented by county laws that are increasingly emerging to allow for safe abortion. The girl, known by her initials JMM, was raped in 2014 at the age of 15. In December her guardian “received a call from a relative informing her that the former was vomiting and bleeding heavily at a local clinic where she had gone to seek treatment.
JMM had told clinic staff she had procured an unsafe abortion and that was sent to a variety of hospitals for post-abortive care. In 2015, JMM's mother, along with the Federation of Women Lawyers and the Centre for Reproductive Rights, filed a suit against the Ministry of Health claiming JMM was not provided with proper post-abortion care and calling on the government to provide access to safe abortions. JMM developed kidney failure, and died June 10, 2018.
Since then, Kenya's health ministry “has withdrawn essential guidelines on conducting safe abortions and banned health workers from training on abortion. The guidelines were removed in 2013 “after it emerged they were being used for unintended purposes,” according to the testimony of Dr. Joel Gondi, head of the Reproductive and Maternal Health Service Unit as The Star reported reports. “The guidelines, amongst other things, provided clarity on who could perform abortions, safe-guarding against illegal practitioners,” reported Reuters. “The ban on training has meant fewer health professionals available to perform the procedure or after care.”
The suit filed on JMM's behalf maintains that the poor care she received following her abortion was a result of the lack of safe abortion services. Petitioners seek the reinstatement of the abortion guidelines, and an end to the ban on training health workers on performing abortion.
Evelyne Opondo of the Centre for Reproductive Rights said that “While JMM was entitled to quality post abortion care irrespective of whether it was within the law or otherwise, she did not receive it from the point of first contact with the health system. Instead there were several delays and missed opportunities to mitigate the adverse effect of the unsafe abortion on her health and life.” JMM's mother said that her daughter's death “was entirely preventable,” and maintained that “Kenya has to make abortion safe and accessible.”
The Catholic bishops argued that the proposed Constitution of Kenya is “fundamentally flawed” because it paves the way for “abortion on demand”. On whether the priests can hear the confession on abortion, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) chairman, Rt Rev Archbishop Philip Anyolo told the Daily Nation on phone that he was not aware of the extension and was waiting for official communication.
Pope Francis extended the special dispensation he granted for the duration of the Year of Mercy, making permanent a temporary measure meant for the Vatican’s jubilee. It was during this time that the Pope said priests would be authorized to forgive the “sin of abortion”.
Rt Rev Archbishop Philip Anyolo said “usually, such cases are preserved by the bishops, who can then give permission to the priests.” At the time the Pope said “The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented,” expressing sympathy for women who had been through the “agonizing and painful” decision to terminate their pregnancy. The forgiveness stretches not only to women who have abortion but those who carry them out or are involved in any way. The Catholic Church has long held that abortion is a grave “moral evil”, with the church’s strong position on the issue driving many Catholic pro-life groups.
More than 6 million unsafe abortions take place each year in Africa, resulting in 29,000 maternal deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Another 1. 7 million women are hospitalized annually for complications from unsafe abortions. Abortion is restricted in most African countries, except in South Africa, Cape Verde, Tunisia and Zambia. Abortion is strictly illegal in 14 countries. In most of Africa, women seeking abortions have little recourse. Some go to traditional healers, many of whom employ unsafe techniques, or to nurses, who generally provide safer services. Some women try to induce abortion themselves, while others purchase abortion-inducing drugs from pharmacists. A report by the African Population and Health Research Center showed the number of illegal abortions in Kenya increased to more than 460,000 in 2012, a 48 percent jump from the estimated 300,000 abortions in previous years.
According to the report, 64 percent of married Kenyan women had an abortion at least once in their lifetime. More than 70 percent of those women said they did not use contraception.