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Traditional leaders roped in to steer abortion debate

BY PHYLLIS MBANJE AS more women continue to die from backyard abortions, traditional leaders including chiefs have been roped into discussions to find a lasting solution which include the possible amendment of the 1977 Termination of Pregnancy Act. Zimbabwe is among countries with high maternal mortality rates at 462 per 100 000 live births and illegal abortions contribute about a third of that figure. On Tuesday, stakeholders met with the Chief’s Council and senators to deliberate the emotive subject which is taboo in communities despite many women and young girls dying from illegal abortions. Dubbed “Breaking the silence”, the dialogue is running under a programme called SAFE engage (Strengthening Evidence-Based Policy to Expand Access to Safe Abortion). The project aims to expand access to safe and legal abortion in multiple countries by providing decision-makers with the latest data on unsafe abortion and its consequences. Speaking at the meeting, Chief Fortune Charumbira said the 1977 law was obsolete. “This law was crafted by the former colonialists and so we deserve an opportunity to look at it,” he said. Under the Act, abortion is only permissible under specific cases including rape, incest or where the mother is in mortal danger, but stakeholders have been agitating for widening of the Termination of Pregnancy Act to include other circumstances. Charumbira, however, said as custodians of culture, the chiefs would need time to digest the issues being raised before making any decisions. “We will go back and consult elders back in the villages. To the drivers of this initiative, there is need for wider consultation and more research,” he said. Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health chairperson Ruth Labode said the majority of women not covered by the Act would still seek services elsewhere no matter the dangers involved. She said Zimbabwean women were crossing over to neighbouring countries like Zambia, South Africa and Mozambique, where abortion was legal. “In Zimbabwe, abortion is legal only for the rich who can come up with US$100 which is required at some private facilities. So the poor woman is the one who goes for the backyard abortion and bleeds to death,” she said. Labode challenged stakeholders to be objective and consider what women were going through especially during the COVID-19 period. “Access to contraceptives is difficult and the products are not there anyway. So what should women do under the circumstances?” Labode queried. Of concern also for the stakeholders was the cost of post-abortion care. While abortion is not open for all, post-abortion care is granted to any woman in need despite the circumstances. Labode, however, said it was expensive. “The woman will need surgery, maybe two or so pints of blood, antibiotics, qualified personnel. All this will deplete resources which we badly need in our facilities,” she said. Women Action Group director Edinah Masiyiwa said they had decided to rope in chiefs and senators for guidance and input. “Many women continue to die from illegal abortions

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