National Symposium on Safe Abortion
October 10, 2018
Roots, with the support of the Right Here Right Now (RHRN) Platform hosted a National Symposium on safe abortion on the 12th of September at the Bronte Hotel. RHRN is a consortium of 11 youth led and youth serving organization committed to young people’s access to young people’s effective access to sexual reproductive health rights. The platform also focuses on freedom from stigma, discrimination and violence. The aim of the symposium was to congregate various stakeholders working on Termination of Pregnancy (ToP) to create a strategy for harmonizing efforts as a means of intensifying advocacy campaigns, avoiding duplication and collectively tracking progress. The Objectives of the Symposium were to: Raise awareness about the state of abortion in Zimbabwe, lobby for the Review of the ToP, create a roadmap for advocacy around ToP and fially hold government leadership accountable to Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on the current state of affairs.
Critical players and legislators who were present included: Traditional chiefs, Senators, Parliamentarians, Representatives from the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), and critical state department representatives. Many of these stakeholders have decision making, implementation and oversights responsibilities towards effective ToP policies in Zimbabwe. Critical regions, persons with disabilities and the Research Department of Parliament were also represented.
On giving key note remarks, Dr. Madzima, the Deputy Director of Family Health at the MoHCC highlighted that Zimbabwe has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, at 651 deaths per every live 100 000 births and that bortions account for about 20% of these maternal deaths and overwhelming evidence suggests that illegal abortions, which are usually conducted under unhygienic conditions, contribute to the given statistics.
Miss Jessie Majome- a legal expert and former active parliamentarian in Zimbabwe- went through the history of the ToP Act since 1977, giving outlines of the Act’s evolution and the implications associated with it. She highlighted the Act’s weaknesses as a policy instrument. Jessie then challenged the legislators who were present to ensure ToP amendments that will pave the way for accessible, efficient and safe abortions in Zimbabwe. Jessie highlighted two critical factors surrounding medical and legal circumstances for terminating a pregnancy: Medical circumstances- ToP could only be approved if it threatened the physical health of the mother or if it affected the physical and mental health of the baby and legal circumstances- ToP could only be done under rape and incest cases
Challenges and limitations to the ToP were explored during discussions and the following were some of the main ones: The process is often prolonged and too bureaucratic for victims intending to safely terminate, ToP is not pro-choice. It does not consider the mental health of the mother as a good enough condition to terminate pregnancy and it disregards economic situations, which are key in significant cases in the Sub Saharan Region, for example, Zambia has included such circumstances.
In conclusion, appreciation was given to all participating stakeholders, particularly the active legislators. There are two strands to safe abortion that need to be weaved together: 1) How do stakeholders make the current ToP Act work 2) How do stakeholders address the high rates of unsafe abortions- regardless of whether or not the ToP is effective. The work at hand is enormous and needed urgent collective effort to save the lives of many young girls being lost through unsafe abortions. There was a call for collective efforts towards follow up advocacy plans.