Political leaders of 10 African countries this week called for the legalization of safe abortion procedures in an effort to curb maternal mortality among African women. “It is sad to learn that 68,000 women die of unsafe abortion each year and out of these, 30,000 are in Africa,” said Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori at a three-day conference addressing human rights and maternal mortality. He and representatives from Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia urged African leaders to make a “political commitment” to end unsafe abortion in their countries.
Some countries have begun to recognize the importance of women’s reproductive health to fighting poverty. In Kenya, as many as 15,000 girls drop out of secondary school annually due to unplanned pregnancies. Awori said that, without access to safe termination, “[girls’] personal development is usually curtailed and the nation loses their development potential.”
The commitment at the conference to make abortion safe and accessible may reflect an emerging trend across the continent. 21 African countries have ratified a protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa authorizing abortion in cases of rape, incest and maternal health, and two others have signed but not yet ratified it. In addition, policymakers in Mozambique–which has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world–announced in early June that they are considering removing the country’s ban on abortion. And on Tuesday, the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance held a mock tribunal on illegal abortions to “publicize the negative consequences of the criminalization of abortion in Kenya,” calling the absence of safe abortions in the country a violation of a woman’s human rights.