Abortion and the Human Rights of Rapists

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By Katy Fentress,
Freelance journalist

Kenyans continue to debate the issue of abortion and how it should be defined in the constitution, after a revised draft of the document was announced last Friday.

A person’s right to life begins at the moment they are conceived, states the new version of the constitution.
This change of wording marks a victory for religious pressure groups that had previously complained that the original draft had mentioned the right to life but not when it started.

The draft however controversially goes on to say that medical practitioners will be allowed to decide whether to conduct a termination if they feel that the mother’s health is in danger.

Article 26(4) of the updated version states that: “Abortion shall not be allowed, unless if in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life of the mother is in danger or if permitted by any other written law”.

The last sentence “permitted by any other written law” is also cause for concern for the Kenyan anti-abortion lobbies, who claim that there is nothing to prevent parliament from passing such a law at a later point.

The columnist Kwamchetsi Makhoka, in an opinion piece for one of Kenya’s main broadsheets the Daily Nation, argued that: “allowing abortion would encroach on the human rights of people who commit rape and incest, who need to reproduce and ensure their progeny [like] everyone else… a woman’s uterus is public property – just like the airwaves”.

Over the past few days, a disproportionate number of the opinion columns on the Nation seemed to be vying in favour of outlawing abortion entirely. The main argument used is that an unborn baby’s human rights, is equal to that of its mother.

The letters from the public pages in the Daily Nation seemed however to be more balanced out, with opinions evenly split on both sides of the argument.

Statistics from the Sunday Nation show that around 800 abortions a day are performed in Kenya.

A report compiled by the crime scene investigation unit (CSI) in Nairobi estimated that 40,500 rapes had taken place in Kenya between December 2007 and June 2008.

Another statistic published by the Daily Nation outlined how girls had failed to reach any of the top positions in the Kenyan Certificate School Examinations (KCSEs) this year.

With such high levels of rape and violence coupled with a brutal disparity in education levels for women, outlawing abortion would seem to be an ineffective way of dealing with a society-wide problem.

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