MDG 5, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND MATERNAL HEALTH IN AFRICA
or ban the procedure entirely.” 74 As of 2009, sixty-eight countries have
such laws, twenty-three (or one third) of them in Africa. 75
Strict anti-abortion legislation forces pregnant women to resort to
clandestine providers, most of them unqualified to handle even minor
obstetric complications. The inevitable result is wanton loss of lives or
debilitating disabilities from which many of these women may never
recover. In countries with highly restrictive anti-abortion laws, the most
affected are poor and marginalized groups, people whose vulnerability
might have contributed to the unwanted pregnancy in the first place,
pregnancy which subsequently exposes them to risk of injury or death,
worsening their vulnerability – a case of double or triple victimization.
Njoki Ndung’u, a Member of the Kenyan Parliament, notes, “[q]uite
paradoxically and despite the restrictive laws, safe abortion services are
available for women from the upper middle class who can afford abortion
services from private clinics and hospitals by trained medical persons, at a
fee.” 76 Such laws, and their disproportionate impact on the poor, are a
major driver of health disparities amongst women in Africa. Unless this
problem is urgently addressed, it could derail advances toward the goal of
reducing maternal mortality in many African countries.
Abrogation of prohibitive legal regimes in affected countries is an often
suggested means of ending the wanton loss of lives, suffering, and injuries
resulting from botched abortions; 77 but this is overly simplistic. Such
ready-made panacea somehow glosses over the circumstances that
combined to institutionalize the criminalization of the procedure in the first
place, some of which have deeply-held religious and metaphysical roots
regarding human life. Thus, whether decriminalization or abstinence
becomes a practical solution will hinge, to a great extent, on the social
dynamics at play in each country. This is a very important lesson for
policy-makers in Africa.
HIV/AIDS is yet another significant contributor to pregnancy-related
74. CTR. FORREPRODUCTIVERIGHTS,THEWORLD’SABORTIONLAWSFACTSHEET 1
(Sept. 2009), available at http://reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/
75. Id. Only two African countries–Cape Verde and South Africa–permit abortion
without restriction as to reason, joining fifty-four other countries with the least restrictive of
abortion legislation. Id. at 2.
76. Joyce Mulama, HEALTH-KENYA: Contraceptives? You’re Lucky if You Get Them,
IPS NEWS SERVICE (Nov. 5, 2004), http://www.ipsnews.net/2004/11/health-kenya-
77. Haddad & Nour, supra note 73, at 125-26.