US Supreme Court leak stokes passions for abortion in Africa

  • Media leak says US court may overturn Roe v Wade decision
  • Abortion rights campaigners fear negative fallout in Africa
  • Anti-abortion lobby says West is imposing un-African practice
  • Unwanted pregnancies and clandestine abortions are commonplace

May 31 (Reuters) – When a desperate, bleeding 17-year-old girl walked into her rural health centre, Kenyan doctor Ismail Mohammed Salim thought he was doing the right thing by helping her conclude a unwanted and dangerous pregnancy.

A few days later, the two were in jail.

“I gave evacuation service to save the life of a patient like the government trained me to do. Then I get sued,” said Salim, who was charged with performing an abortion illegal and detained in Kilifi town, where he had to sleep 20- to a cell.

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“I was in despair.”

After a week in police custody and a two-year court process, the clinical officer and the girl were exonerated in March by the High Court, which reaffirmed Kenya’s constitutional provision on abortion services in situations emergency or life threatening.

Such cases have in recent years cheered abortion rights activists across Africa, where cultural and religious traditions clash with the reality of widespread early and unwanted pregnancies, sometimes through rape or incest.

Now, however, these activists are looking nervously to the United States, where a leaked Supreme Court ruling would, if upheld, overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion there. Read more

“This is a major threat to abortion rights around the world,” said Evelyne Opondo, senior regional director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights, covering Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zambia.

“Many of us admired the United States for many things, and perhaps believed too much in their system.”

US President Joe Biden has eliminated his predecessor Donald Trump’s so-called “global gag” rule banning funds for aid groups that discuss abortion, and has promised countermeasures if the US Supreme Court United confirmed the draft decision reported by the Politico media. Read more

Experts say a reversal of Roe v Wade would have an inevitable major ripple effect in Africa, emboldening anti-abortionists and increasing their funding, much of it coming from American pockets.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are approximately 73 million abortions worldwide each year, 45% of them in unsafe conditions. Poor countries bear the brunt of this, with 220 women dying for every 100,000 unsafe abortions.

In Africa, 75% of pregnancy terminations are at risk, according to the WHO. They occur in houses or street clinics, sometimes by inserting knitting needles or bicycle spokes, or by drinking bleach.

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Around the world’s poorest continent, a powerful anti-abortion lobby has helped block some reproductive liberalization bills, including in parliament in the East African bloc.

These activists say it is a murder-like practice imposed on Africa by Westerners when attention would be better spent on the basics such as schools and clean water.

Kathy Kageni-Oganga, pastor of Sozo Church of God in Kenya, said she was praying for Roe v Wade to be overturned but would still be surprised if it happened.

“It would be such a miracle,” she said.

Most U.S. experts believe the U.S. court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, including three Trump-appointed justices, will act to end or curtail abortion rights.

“They are killing these babies worse than dogs. No one has the right to decide who lives and who dies, only God,” Kageni-Oganga added. “Abortion is actually very alien and it’s actually taboo. But people in Africa have been tricked into thinking it’s chic, it’s cool.”

The former human resources director, who made headlines in 2019 when anti-abortion billboards she placed in the Kenyan capital were ordered to be taken down, said self-control was the key. response to unwanted pregnancies. “People act like you’re going to cook in the kitchen and you suddenly find yourself pregnant,” she said.

Her church has cared for 20 teenage girls with crisis pregnancies in recent years, all of whom kept their babies despite being offered adoption, Kageni-Oganga added.

Given these religious precepts, social stigma and a hodgepodge of laws that in most African countries only allow abortions in extreme situations, clandestine operations remain commonplace.

Abortion rights campaigners fear it could get worse if Roe v Wade were struck down.

“My case was a very big win for me and for the whole medical fraternity and for the girls who need help,” said Salim, the Kenyan doctor. “If there is a setback in America, then it will be very negative for us.”

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Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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