HEALTH Minister Nkaku Kabi says it is time the church supported the government’s bid to legalise abortion as part of efforts to saves the lives of young women.
Mr Kabi said legalising abortion had become an urgent issue as the number of women suffering complications from illegal abortions has reached crisis proportions in the country.
Mr Kabi made the plea amid revelations by Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) authorities that up to 70 women with complications from illegal abortions are referred to the hospital on a weekly basis.
Abortion is currently criminalised by Section 45 of the Penal Code Act of 2010 which stipulates that anyone who willingly causes or induces the termination of a pregnancy commits a criminal offence.
Discussions on the legalisation of abortion have always been heated and the last time the issue was brought up, the former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili received a backlash from the church and the then opposition. This was before 2012 elections which ushered in the first coalition which was headed by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
The seventh parliament (from 2007 to 2012) amended the Penal Code to provide for abortions only in exceptional cases like those where there is the likelihood of danger to the health of a pregnant person.
The amended law further states that abortion can also be performed to prevent the birth of a child who will be seriously physically or mentally handicapped.
Mr Kabi recently said it was time the topic was brought back to the table for discussion. He pleaded with churches to reconsider their stance as legalising abortion would help save lives of especially those of teenagers.
He said patients of illegal abortion and other terminally ill patients were responsible for the overcrowding that has resulted in QMMH’s inability to admit more patients as the hospital is filled to capacity.
Last week QMMH announced that all its 450 beds were full and it was no longer in a position to admit more patients.
Hospital authorities said from now until the situation improves, all patients reporting at the hospital will be assessed, and transferred to the nearest hospital or the referring hospital.
Dr Kabi said that “40 to 70 women, mostly teenagers, present at Tšepong with complications from illegal abortions and they are partly responsible for the congestion at Tšepong”.
“The question of abortion is a difficult one because as Christians we were made to believe that it is the right thing to reproduce and multiply in a responsible manner.
“Pushing to legalise abortion would be tricky because resistance will be from our very own churches that we are members of. I know that the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), Lesotho Evangelical Church in Southern Africa (LESCA) and Anglican Church of Lesotho will strongly resist this move.
“In order to save lives, our sincere plea to the churches is that they should support our proposal that abortion should be legalised because failing to legalise it means that we will continue to have this crisis of illegal terminations of pregnancies which are way too risky to an extent that some people die in the process,” Mr Kabi said.
He said the churches and the rest of the nation had failed to teach young women to avoid pregnancies until they were ready to have children.
Mr Kabi further said the church must consequently participate in efforts to legalise abortion as an alternative way of saving lives.
“We are asking the church to support us on this matter (of legalising abortion). As Basotho and churches, we have failed to make our children understand that they should wait for marriage (before they have sex),” Mr Kabi said.
He also pleaded with churches to allow their hospitals and clinics to offer family planning services.
However, Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) Secretary General Khosi Makubakube said while the church sympathises with the public, it was wrong and against the teachings of the church to resort to abortion.
“When the children of the church are pained, the church is pained. It pains the church to see the children of God going through this challenging and difficult time. However, the church still maintains that a human being was created in the image and likeness of God. Humans are the only creatures that have been given the rationality to know and choose between bad and good.
“We have been given power to choose life, prosperity and love. Abortion is choosing murder as opposed to choosing life. The word of God tells us ‘Do not kill’ and as the church we are saying, let us all choose life as children of God.
“So regardless of the circumstances that the Honourable minister is talking about, the church says the end does not justify the means. Regardless of the circumstances that push our children to abort, the children are not justified in choosing abortion.
“We should all help our children to know that every action has consequences and they should first think about the consequences before acting,” Mr Makubakube said.
On her part, the Director General in the Ministry of Health, Nyane Letsie, said they had since requested all women who have terminated pregnancies to go to Elizabeth Queen II hospital instead of QMMH.
Dr Letsie said the abortion crisis was as a result of unwanted pregnancies that could be avoided through primary prevention.
“We now know that people are faced with this challenge (of illegal abortions) and we need to start asking questions like where do they get family planning services. This will help us target those places (where they get family planning services) and strengthen such services to ensure greater access in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Dr Letsie said her ministry should establish the source of the pills that were used to terminate pregnancies and shut them down.
“Abortion is a key cause of maternal mortalities at QMMH. Some people don’t present complications from abortions on time and they later come with sceptic abortions.
Dealing with an abortion is more expensive and challenging to our health system. We continuously run short of blood for patients as some come having lost some blood.
“It is also a challenge on our scarce human resources because daily we are talking about five to ten people that come to Tšepong and there is no theatre for dealing exclusively with abortions,” Dr Letsie said.