Zimbabwean Feminists Call for Expanded Abortion Access

Activists Cite Public Health Concerns and Outdated Legislation

by Victor Adetimilehin

The debate over abortion rights in Zimbabwe has reignited, with feminist groups calling for a reform of the country’s restrictive laws. Citing public health concerns and outdated legislation, activists are urging the government to expand access to safe abortion procedures.

Unsafe Procedures and Devastating Consequences

A major concern for women’s rights organizations like Katswe Sistahood is the alarming prevalence of unsafe abortions in Zimbabwe. Otilia Chinyani, a senior official with the group, paints a grim picture. “Many women and girls resort to dangerous methods to terminate unwanted pregnancies,” Chinyani explained in a recent interview. “These unsafe procedures often lead to serious health complications, and tragically, even death.”

Statistics paint a worrying picture. Reports suggest that over 70,000 illegal abortions are performed in Zimbabwe each year. These back-alley procedures, often conducted using harmful substances or methods, put women’s lives at significant risk.

Katswe Sistahood, along with other feminist groups, is pushing for an update to the Termination of Pregnancy Act, a law enacted in the 1970s. Activists argue that the current legal framework fails to reflect the realities of the 21st century. The law currently permits abortion only in limited circumstances, such as when the mother’s health is in danger, the fetus has severe birth defects, or the pregnancy results from sexual assault.

Bureaucratic Hurdles and Restricted Access

Even within these limited parameters, obtaining a legal abortion in Zimbabwe can be a complex and time-consuming process. Women seeking termination must navigate a bureaucratic maze, often requiring approval from multiple doctors and, in cases of rape or incest, the court system. These cumbersome procedures further restrict access to safe abortion services.

Feminist groups like Katswe Sistahood criticize the existing legal framework as overly restrictive and out of touch with the needs of women. They argue that the lengthy bureaucratic process pushes many women towards unsafe alternatives, jeopardizing their health and well-being.

Recent surveys suggest that a growing number of Zimbabweans, particularly young people, favor a relaxation of abortion laws. This shift in public opinion could pave the way for legislative reform.

However, the issue remains highly contentious, with strong opposition from religious groups and conservative elements within society. The government faces a delicate balancing act, navigating public opinion, religious beliefs, and the need to safeguard women’s health.

Focus on Education and Prevention

While advocating for legislative reform, feminist groups also recognize the importance of education and prevention. Expanding access to comprehensive sex education and making contraceptives readily available are crucial steps in reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and, consequently, the need for unsafe abortions.

The debate over abortion rights in Zimbabwe is complex and multifaceted. The voices of women’s rights advocates, public opinion polls, and the need to address public health concerns are all crucial factors in this ongoing conversation. The path forward likely involves a blend of legislative reform, improved access to healthcare services, and a focus on education and preventative measures.

Source: New Zimbabwe


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