Nyale Institute clarifies on access to safe abortion law  


The news of pregnancy is mostly accompanied by joy, but this is not always the case. There exist circumstances where such news brings not celebration but concern – particularly when the health or life of the pregnant girl or woman is at stake.

In Malawi, before colonialism, termination of pregnancy was traditionally acceptable among women who would manage unwanted pregnancies using local herbs for termination.

However colonial influence introduced penal laws which intertwined with religious doctrines to prohibit abortion, and eventually overshadowed the traditional practices. Yet, the traditional practices have not been extinguished. They just went underground.

Speaking in an interview, Nyale Institute’s Executive Director, who is also a lawyer and scholar on sexual and reproductive justice, Dr. Godfrey Kangaude, stated that while termination of pregnancy is restricted by law, it is essential to understand that it is not an absolute prohibition.

Specifically, termination is permissible when the life or health of the pregnant woman or girl is endangered.

“Recognizing this aspect of the law is crucial as it may prevent women from resorting to unsafe methods of abortion, risking their lives in the process.” said Dr. Kangaude

According to Dr. Kangaude, 141,000 women induce abortion every year and out of those about 500 die from unsafe abortions.

“It is sad that among these are women and girls who had they known that they are eligible for legal abortion would have accessed safe termination of pregnancy at a public facility provided by trained and skilled professionals using the appropriate standards of care.”

This legal interpretation of the abortion law was affirmed in a recent court case where the High Court of Malawi explained that termination of pregnancy is legally permissible when performed to preserve the pregnant girl’s or woman’s life. Further, the preservation of life includes both physical and mental health.

Meanwhile, the recent communication from the government of Malawi to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reaffirms the position that termination of pregnancy, is in some cases is legally permissible, under the laws of Malawi.

According to the communication, women who seek an abortion because the pregnancy is a threat to their health or life should consult a doctor to address the situation in terms of the Malawi Ministry of Health’s Post Abortion Care Guidelines.

Nyale Institute has applauded the government’s clarification of the abortion law, because it empowers women facing risky pregnancies, to access care at public health facilities, where they can receive appropriate care rather than use unsafe methods for terminating pregnancy. This is consistent with Malawi’s obligations under national and international law.

However, Nyale Institute as a member of the Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA) continues to champion the full review of the abortion law, to comprehensively address the needs of girls and women who seek termination of termination of pregnancy for various reasons.

 “The Termination of Pregnancy Bill is important because it would address challenges where the current law is falling short”, said Dr. Kangaude.

Nyale Institute is a nongovernmental organization established in 2013 to advance sexual and reproductive justice.


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