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Editorial - Apartheid still polices women’s bodies

2021-10-22  Staff Reporter

Editorial - Apartheid still polices women’s bodies
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Thought-provoking and damning contributions came to the fore this week when parliament hosted a series of public hearings on the contentious issue of abortion in Namibia. 

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs conducted three days of public hearings on the petitions to legalise or keep abortion against the law in Namibia.

 Both pro-life and pro-choice activists had an opportunity to present their ethical arguments on whether government should repeal a 1975 law to declare abortion legal in the country or sustain the current legislation. 

The Abortion and Sterilisation Act of 1975, which was adopted under apartheid South African rule, allows abortion to save the life of the mother, in cases of severe fetal deformity, in cases of rape or incest, or if the woman is mentally incompetent. 

The abortion-rights debate, therefore, raised pertinent questions about women’s rights that remain unresolved since the adoption of the current legislation in 1975. 

Interestingly, our neighbouring South Africa from where the legislation was adopted, elected to legalise abortion in 1996 through the Choice in Termination of Pregnancy Act. 

Proponents of abortion in Namibia have been on the losing end since then – whenever such debate enters the public domain. 

Former deputy prime minister Dr Libertine Amathila, who also had a stint as health minister in the 1990s, was unsuccessful in her efforts to have the issue decriminalised after her fellow parliamentarians shot down the motion. 

At the time, Amathila highlighted the statistics of girls and women who had lost lives due to unsafe abortions and the actual number of women and girls who had proffered an abortion. 

These views are strongly countered by anti-abortion activists, who continue to posit “abortion is the intentional killing of a live foetus and an act or form of murder, which should only be justified in a set of specific circumstances as a form of defence”. 

The fact, however, remains a considerable number of women of reproductive age in Africa live in countries with restrictive abortion laws.

 Millions do not have a moral right to decide what to with their bodies. 

Yes, we acknowledge the issue of abortion is a complex matter, taking into consideration cultural conditions, morality and individual circumstances.

 It is quite interesting that those who have taken the moral high ground are stone silent when it comes to the plight of women and the barriers mothers face to preventing unintended pregnancies. 

A medical professional hinted this week about 7 000 unsafe abortions are recorded in one year, which often lead to other health complications.

 Poor young Namibians who do not have the financial means to travel to South Africa for the safe practice are left with no choice but to subject themselves to unsafe abortions or remain in the poverty cycle with more mouths to feed. 

It, thus, really begs the question whether those who are anti-abortion really have the interest of the poorest and most vulnerable women in society when they bluntly refuse to recognise the Abortion and Sterilisation Act of 1975 as an obsolete law that does not reflect the changing reality on the ground. 

Those who don’t want abortions should not have them, but bodily autonomy should trump any moralistic argument the church and anti-abortion groups want to make. 

Allow women the right to choose what they do with their bodies. It is about time.

2021-10-22  Staff Reporter

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