Women’s ability to access safe and legal abortion in Namibia is restricted by the law, with abortion only permitted to save the life of a woman or to preserve her physical and mental health.
Restricted access to safe abortion violates girls’ and women’s rights to health because many resort to backstreet abortion practices, which are unsafe.
The tabling of a motion to legalise abortion in Namibia by Esther Muinjangue, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, has brought some heated arguments in the public; also it opened up a debate in the National Assembly to allow members of parliament to weigh the pros and cons of abortion.
A group of anti-abortion activists recently rallied against the calls to legalise abortion while others demonstrated in support for the legalisation of safe abortion.
They later launched an online petition stating that too many Namibian women have lost their lives as a direct result of illegal, unsafe abortion, and limited access to post-abortion healthcare.
Existing global data on abortion shows that there is a strong association between unsafe abortion and restrictive abortion laws.
The median rate of unsafe abortion in countries with the most restrictive abortion laws is almost 10 times higher than in countries that allow for safe abortion.
Further, abortion-related deaths are higher in countries with more restrictive abortion laws when compared to those with liberal laws.
Access to safe abortion is, therefore, an essential and life-saving health service.
Efforts to increase access to safe abortion should occur concurrently with programs that prevent unintended or unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place.
We should educate our young girls and boys on matters related to their sexual reproductive health and rights and strengthen counselling and support systems to empower them to make positive healthy choices.
Indeed, research shows that educational and contraceptive-promoting programs and interventions can reduce unintended pregnancies among adolescent girls ; thus, lowering the risk for unsafe abortion.
Reproductive rights are basic rights for all to decide freely and responsibly on issues of their sexuality without discrimination or any violence, the right to control one’s fertility and access to information.
The Namibian constitution chapter 3 (article 21 b) promises freedom of religion and freedom of conscience and belief to every person in Namibia.
Each religion has it is own theories about when life begins, attitudes and moral views on matters related to sexuality and reproduction.
But as a society advocating young girls and women’s health rights, one cannot be forced to accept the views of any particular religion. The right to make decisions on matters of conscience is a fundamental part of what it means to be human.
I am urging our leaders to enact our own law to legalise abortion in Namibia because the country is currently operating under the abortion and sterilisation Act of South Africa (1975), which was developed during the apartheid era.
Our young girls and women need to realise their rights to sexual reproductive health, fully practice their bodily autonomy and have control of their health and lives.