‘Mary’ felt she had no choice but to risk a back-alley abortion in Nairobi [Amanda Fisher/Al Jazeera]
The Kenya Medical Association estimates that nearly 465,000 Kenyan women undergo abortions each year.
Nairobi, Kenya – In the wood-panelled interior of Nairobi‘s High Court, a battle is due to begin on December 15 that will determine whether hundreds of thousands of women each year are committing criminal acts.
The issue of abortion in Kenya has been mired in confusion and contention for the past six years.
In 2010, a new constitution was passed, heralded globally as a progressive foundational document for its principles of gender equality in parliament; freedom of media; and formation of an independent Human Rights and Equality Commission to investigate human rights abuses.
The trouble is that much of what was included has met resistance and debate.
That includes the three provisions that permit abortions where, “in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is a need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.”
Reproductive rights advocates filed a petition against the Ministry of Health and Attorney General last year, alleging a lack of guidelines and policy is putting the health – and lives – of women in danger.
In 2008, the World Health Organization said Eastern and Middle Africa had the highest global rates of unsafe abortions, at 36 per 1,000 reproductive-aged women.
Josephine Mongare, the chair of Kenya’s Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) that led the petition, said how wide the interpretation of “health” is – such as whether it includes emotional or mental health – and what constitutes a “trained health professional” needs guidance.
“This is what the law has not defined and the doctor must make those decisions,” she said. Unlike other jurisdictions with similar laws, there are no further laws, guidelines or policies in place to expand on the succinct constitutional passage.READ MORE