By Steven Godfrey Mkweteza
Three groupings, led by the Quadriyyah Muslim Ulama Council of Malawi, have joined forces asking Members of Parliament to table and pass the Termination of Pregnancy (TOP) Bill once it is brought back into the august House.
At a joint press briefing held in Zomba on Monday, Quadriyyah Muslim Ulama Council vice-chairman, Sheikh Jim Suleimana said the Muslim groupings said the MPs should consider the Bill as a human rights piece of legislation aimed at reducing cases of maternal mortality rate in the country.
“We recommend the Bill which was prepared by the Law Commission, which agreed that despite abortion being illegal, there should be other exceptional instances where it can be performed,” Suleimana said.
He added that while Islamic teachings permit promoting pregnancy for valid reasons, it does not allow violating the pregnancy once it occurs unnecessarily.
He said Muslim jurists agree unanimously that after the foetus is completely forced and has been given a soul, aborting it is illegal (haram).
Suleimana said Islam teachings recommend that abortion should be carried under conditions such as before four months of pregnancy based on valid health and medical justifications as expounded in the books of Islamic jurisprudence.
He said his institution has started sensitizing the Muslim fraternity in various forums in a bid to bring about proper understanding of the TOP Bill.
Commenting on the issue, Muslim women representative, Khadija Mwawa noted that lack of proper sensitization measures by the authority was the main contributing factor that make the community and the MPs to defer the bill.
Other organizations at the press briefing including Dawah Association and Islamic Commission for Justice and Freedom.
The country’s legislature was expected to deliberate and pass the abortion bill during the last sitting but failed to present it due to, among other things, some glaring clauses that needed some clarifications from the framers of the bill.
In October, as the storm against tabling the Bill raged on, pathologist and senior lecturer at College of Medicine, Dr. Tamiwe Tomoka said many people seem not to have read the bill deeply as most of them are worried that if it is passed, it will be like publicizing abortion.
The public felt that some people will try to bend the rules and take advantage of the proposed Bill to procure abortions.
But Tomoka contended that there are provisions for offences and those who will take advantage will be committing a crime by law.
“Abortions are not a secret though we want to treat them as such,” she had said. “They are happening and will continue to happen. Women with resources are doing them safely.”
She said it is the poor who cannot afford proper TOP services and end up soliciting unsafe backstreet services.
She said when she was practising as a doctor in the public health service in 2004-05, she used to experience about 20-30 women per day being referred to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital with complications of backstreet abortion for post-abortal care.
She said the majority of them were poor women who used things like rods, sticks, perforations and some had very bad complications when they tried to terminate their pregnancies.
She had said her understanding of the TOP Bill in summary include:
a. the continued pregnancy will endanger the life of a pregnant woman;
b. the termination of pregnancy is necessary to prevent injury to the physical or mental health of a pregnant woman;
c. there is severe malformation of the foetus which will affect its viability or compatibility with life, or;
d. the pregnancy is a result of rape, incest or defilement
“In the Bill ground (d) can only be carried out at 16 weeks below while the rest (a,b,c) any gestational age as long as other conditions in the Bill are met,” Tomoka said. “Counselling shall be provided and consent obtained.
She indicated that counselling shall include:
(a) information on options of continuing or terminating the pregnancy,
(b) available methods for termination of pregnancy,
(c) possible short and long-term effects associated with each method of termination of pregnancy,
(d) emotional and psychological responses following termination of pregnancy, and information about family planning.
“Consent shall be obtained. In case of the child if consent by parents is being unreasonably withheld, a practitioner may decide to go ahead with termination.
“Medical personnel will not be forced to perform terminations if their conscious does not allow except in emergency or saving the life of the mother,” she quoted the Bill.
Furthermore, a woman can lodge a complaint if she feels she is being denied access to termination as provided for under the Act and that complaints handling committee to be set up at every facility.
“Then there is the offences section which deals with unauthorized termination, false declaration of rape, incest or defilement, obstructing a person from accessing TOP and general offenses.
“This section covers all forms of TOPs that are not provided for in the Act.”—Additional reporting by Duncan Mlanjira