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Unsafe abortions on the rise across Africa

Akech Aimba, an abortion survivor who heads Pearls and Treasures Trust, a Kenyan organization that provide post -abortion care to women affected by unsafe abortion.She says abortion kills the fetus, but also kills women psychologically. and emotionally. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) Amid increasing calls for legalization of abortion in Africa, botched cases among young women are on the rise, according to recent reports.

Akech Aimba, an abortion survivor who heads Pearls and Treasures Trust, a Kenyan organization that provide post -abortion care to women affected by unsafe abortion.She says abortion kills the fetus, but also kills women psychologically. and emotionally. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

Akech Aimba, an abortion survivor who heads Pearls and Treasures Trust, a Kenyan organization that provide post -abortion care to women affected by unsafe abortion.She says abortion kills the fetus, but also kills women psychologically. and emotionally. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

Governments are responding by distributing contraceptives, but the Roman Catholic Church, some Muslim groups and anti-abortion groups are waging their own campaigns against contraception, warning it will further escalate the problem.

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.

The increase in the number of abortions is due largely to the rising number of women of reproductive age, according to the U.S. based Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

According to the institute, only 3 percent of African abortions were performed under safe conditions.

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 last month 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.

Since its release, churches, mosques and anti-abortion groups have strongly criticized the report, describing its findings as inflated. Kenyan Roman Catholic bishops called the figures “disturbing,” and said people should guard against questionable statistics that may scare them to accepting legalization of abortion. Abortion is outlawed in Kenya, except when the life of the woman is in danger.

“We reaffirm that life is sacred from conception until natural death,” said Bishop Philip Anyolo, vice chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement.  “We insist it is deceptive to treat abortion as a panacea to health, happiness and prosperity of a woman.”

In Uganda, Imam Idi Kasozi, the secretary general of the Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly, warned against any government attempt to decriminalize abortion.

“We also need to look at our religions and cultures to bring out the good values that encourage sexual purity and abstinence,” Kasozi said.

Dr. Jean Kagia, an OB-GYN in Nairobi who heads the Protecting Life Movement Trust, said abortion and unplanned pregnancies are a social problem.

“Many women fear after using the contraceptives they will not be able to have babies in future,” she said. People here value babies and those who don’t have their own are stigmatized. I think this is an African mind-set that must be well understood.”

Women are having abortions because it has been readily made available to them, even where it’s illegal, said Akech Aimba, a 33-year-old Kenyan woman who heads the Pearls and Treasures Trust, an anti-abortion organization that cares for women who have had an abortion.

Aimba had two abortions herself before being counseled by a Christian crisis pregnancy.

“I cried a lot,” she said. “I started feeling ashamed of myself. There was deep-seated grief and emptiness I could not explain.”

She is now convinced contraceptives are not the answer, either.

Distributing condoms freely, without giving information encourages risky sexual behavior leading to more abortions, she said.

“We are not solving the problem,” she added. “We are not giving them life skills, but with the condoms people are pushed deeper into sexual addiction.”


About the author

Fredrick Nzwili

Fredrick Nzwili is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more than 15 years, he has written about religion, politics, peace and conflict, development, security, environment and wildlife. His articles have appeared in international media organizations among others; The Tablet, The Christian Science Monitor, The National Geographic and Kenyan local newspapers; The Standard and the People Daily.


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  • What a strange headline. Aren’t all abortions unsafe? Half the patients die, no matter on which continent they are performed.

  • What is needed in Africa as in other parts of the world is to embrace sexuality more positively and stop the myth that only sinful people have sex and unwanted pregnancy. Africans are religious and they are the same ones aborting unsafely. Let us provide all options for pregnancy preventions – skills on pregnancy prevention, contraception, etc. If we demonize any of these, e.g. demonizing contraception more unwanted pregnancies will happen. If we stigmatize abortion more women will hide and go to the backstreet and some will die. None of us wants a woman to die so let us show love and respect to all women, even those asking for abortion. I believe God does not discriminate.

  • @Jo: Wrong, wrong, wrong! Sexuality within the boundaries of a monogamous, faithful marriage IS embraced positively! How many more millions of cases of venereal disease and unplanned pregnancies ending in abortion can humanity endure because of people like you who “celebrate sexuality” outside of marriage????

    60% of all abortions are done because of FAILED CONTRACEPTION!! Not only does hormonal contraception kill newly-conceived human beings by the millions every day worldwide, but the World Health Association, 7 years ago, officially classified hormonal contraceptives as “Group 1 Carcinogen”, DEFINITELY CAUSING CANCER OF THE BREAST, LIVER AND CERVIX!!! Lethal to Women!!!

    Contraception AND abortion KILL WOMEN AND THEIR CHILDREN!

    You talk about “love and respect” for women??? The greatest love is to TELL THE TRUTH! The greatest respect is to honor the body God gave you by not mutilating it with chemical poisons and the violent, destructive act of forcibly aborting your children! Love desires the BEST for the beloved, not to tell the beloved to murder their offspring and destroy their bodies.

  • I really don’t understand this one. aren’t we contradicting ourselves in this article? The writer speaks about the rise of abortion in Africa but continues to engage others who are strongly leaning on one side and criticizing a report. What are w really saying here? That we need to counsel women after they have undergone abortions? is it only emotional counselling they need or much more than that? As we strongly disregard this report, can someone comment on the report by the National population council on the alarming rise of teenage pregnancies in Kenya? Was it fictitious too? Abortion and unplanned pregnancies at that are a reality and we need to address them without disregarding or criticizing national studies. How about what we are seeing in media today? Listen to the Maina Kageni breakfast show for example…are you going to say that the callers are fictitious too?
    Please!Please! Please! Can we have a better discourse that engages on solution building NOT criticism on reports. What is the church’s role in addressing sexuality in this very real world that is marred with media that preaches sex half the time? Can we please find practical solutions on how to address the issues and stop talking about fictitious reporting. As far as I am concerned, this is fictitious reporting from where I stand. I truly wish the writer would have been a little bit more objective in finding out what the real issues are.
    As I strongly agree with Dr. Kagia on the social impetus that drives women’s reproductive health decisions, I would like to pose that it is these same social impetus including gender inequality, stigmatization, and poverty that drives women to Ward 26 of Kenyatta National Hospital that is now overburdened with women who have suffered from unsafe abortion.

  • You talk about abortion i think its time for us to search and see what can be done on the air, a girls does it and later misses a child,she says its a curse, the pills are sold in all the chemists, do this people see the danger, why my dear sisters ,why should we we kill that innocent fetus which cannot talk or go on the roads singing haki yetu they dont have any voice lets join together and say no to abortion let those who incite be coureguosly say no to abortion let the doctors say no .and you young people to give birth is not a curse rather its a blessing let there be homes for those who are not ready to bring up the little saints.

  • No. These are illegal abortions being performed in nonsterile conditions and by untrained physicians. The chance of dying from an abortion in the US by a trained physician legally is much lower..

    By Ombuge M Moses

    Akin to pieces of wet sauté pullet, I’m flaunted
    Mama, you ignored my deeply cried sound
    I whinged so loud as you kept a deaf ear
    Mama, do you know how fast I had to run?
    I won a marathon of three million participants
    The road was messy and slithered for a win
    I kept scampering with gargantuan hopes of future
    You never gave me an opportunity to shower you love
    Neither did you showed me any sigh of love
    Was I really a ‘person’ in your eyes?
    With your two legs you took yourself for my death
    Why couldn’t just give me a nine month chance?
    There after make me a slave. I would work for you mama
    You are my owner Mama, and I am your property with a big heart
    You could have just let me be, use me as often as you would
    I would have accepted to be your slave mama
    To be sold, used, atleast someone would have bought me
    You could be rich if you gave birth to me and sold me
    I’m now in a strange land, I m loved here mama
    Am happy more than you could have made me happy
    As I curled in the womb, you kept cursing me
    You found me to be a nuisance even before you laid your eyes on me
    I was killed at your own request Mama, a decision of your heart
    A dreadful decision that even God himself cannot reverse
    I could hear you howling to your friends about my existance
    You never even gave me a chance to own an earthly name
    I am now just a little cherub looking down at your unforgivable sin
    Even the most noble divinity cannot overturn your decision
    I regret for having wasted energy running to the catamenial period
    You woke up and sent me to death for you to be happy
    I had reached the fetal age Mama and on that morning,
    You made me a human garbage, lying lonenly in the cold
    They wrapped me in polythine bags and threw me beside the road
    He was so cruel Mama, so cruel just as he killed me as you watched. All this being a search of your own personal happiness
    He sliced me into pieces Mama, but you found happiness thereafter
    He dumped my remains that looked like chicken pieces, chicken you love to eat.

    Do you understand how painful it is not to get a courteous send off?
    It was so cold and dogs tried to feed on me but I was too salty
    I know you are full of anger and hatred for yourself and actions
    I cried but you refused to let me live to give me a chance
    You kept persisting that you din’t want me, you were ashamed of me Mama. I was already proud of you even if I was too tiny to be considered a human being. I had a being in me already. A soul and a heart for you.
    Life or death was a question that kept lingering in your mind
    You became stressed, everytime affecting my emotions too. You thought I was not a human yet. A person.
    You were not happy to receive the product of your pregnancy Mama
    How about if your Mama had done that to you, how sad or happy could you be?
    I only needed time Mama, time to grow into an adult human.
    My body was already able to replace its own dying cells. My life had already begun long ago, I was a new being, a new being that existed in your womb. My heart had already begun to beat six weeks ago. I loved the rhythimic heart beat that sounded like a little drum. A small drum beating inside you Mama. A drum that you hated the most. I also loved when I started to move. I kept dancing inside the womb Mama

    Mama, you ashamed me before the whole world. People gathered and newsmen around the orb anounced. You went to hide Mama, not to hear of the news. You ignored me Mama and ashamed me as I watched from the blue skies.
    Mama, when that instrument was inserted in you, I was scared.
    I tried hard to hide and swim freely while scared in the amniotic fluids with a natural swimmer’s stroke but there was no where to hide. My weak and tired palms tried to grab to the instrument of my destruction. With force, it perforated my small loved heart.
    My lovely drumming heartbeats quickly stopped. A heartbeat I enjoyed everytime since quickening begun.

    Mama, that morning the cruel doctor advised you, he tried to stand with you and you made sure he never stood against you. He helped you to explore other loving alternative. With your own mouth you said it would be shameful and cruel, cruel to allow a handcapped me to be born to a miserable life. You were too fashionable to keep me Mama.
    Did he rape you Mama? Even if he did, why did you kill me as innocent as I am for the crime of my father?
    Mama, it was your choice to kill me. You hated me so much Mama. I would not have forced you to love me if you just gave me a chance to live. I could not have want to force you to want me. I would have survived even as a street child. I would not have been the first or the last street child Mama, but your pride made you to kill me. The world came together cried when I was nationalize from the garbage. You took cover and put up the shutters on the world. Did it even take long? Now you lounge and when you see stories of my case you quickly switch off pretending to be happy. For me I am happy living with my maker. My fellow angels came for my little soul from inside your womb. You destroyed my tender body, but your callous did not perforate through my soul. Mama, it was taken away by the little singing angels. You disliked me much Mama, but I was crowned.
    If you had given me time, just a little more time then you would have learnt to love me. You would love me Mama if you would have delivered me but you named me ‘unwanted’ right from the day you discovered I existed in your womb. I was even too tiny to think on my own. I knew you would have had happy thoughts after discovering me in your womb. You chose to remain naked to the cold doctor to ashame your own child? A child sliced in pieces like a chicken waiting to be fried. You have no respect for human life Mama. No respect for civil right, human right and you kept asking your self if you should let me live or kill me. You sided with your ego, your pride Mama and unemotionally you chose death for me. I was just nutrition and oxgen Mama, I was complete Mama from fertilization. A process that took place inside you after you were sexed. Willingly or unwillingly. Wanted or unwanted, you must have changed your thoughts to hate me and love yourself Mama. Whether you loved the father or hated him. It took place inside you Mama and you hated the product. Mama, you chose to discriminate me on the basis of my age. You though I was too young to have a voice of reason. There you have it Mama, a little soul talking to you in this letter. I watch you from the skies Mama as you go seeking for a pro-life pregnancy help. I know you are hurting, upset and disabled from the inside. Your emotional after effect is killing you all round Mama and there is nothing I can do to help you. I can only watch you sin Mama for you chose to abort me.

    We both danced Mama. You danced to the pain as you persisted. The doctor danced to your frustrations. I danced in the womb more trying to run away from death. Death that woke me up from my morning sleep. I danced more in fear Mama, A painful dance, frustrated Mama, more than you were Mama.
    It was a struggle, a scare, a cry, a fear, a threat, a termination, an end to my green tender life.
    I hope you are now happy in your frustrations and miseries. I hope you are not a miserable woman trying to fit into the world. I would have been part of your dreams, helped you achieve them better. Whatsoever you were trying to please, your admirer, husband, boyfriend, teacher, neighbour, Shopkeeper, tout, parent, siblings, friends, Boss, religious leader or, education, technology, fashion, culture, law and feasibly your career. Are they happy with you? Or are you happy with them? I am nolonger part of your life and I can never be. You are free to dance your dance in your world Mama. Be happy Mama and don’t be disingenuous to yourself.

    Mama, to my little self and soul, I never gave up on you but you did
    The process you put me through was so cruel.
    Mama, it was a cruel Dance of Death.