These are serious public health, human rights and social equity dilemmas that must be addressed
By Umar Wewala
One in every four teenage girls in Uganda aged 15-19 years is a mother a child or pregnant. 42% of all the pregnancies among adolescents in Uganda are unintended.
Under the existing restrictive SRHR environment, a significant number of these pregnancies end up in unsafe abortions or culminate into pregnancy complications, sometimes leading to death.
As a result, Uganda’s maternal mortality ratio (MMR) remains high; at 336/100,000 live births, with teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortions among the leading contributors to these unacceptable statistics.
Over 1500 women die from unsafe abortions every year and an estimated 800 abortions happen in Uganda every day.
These are serious public health, human rights and social equity dilemmas that must be addressed.
The governments have an obligation under international, regional and national laws to protect, fulfil and respect human rights of its citizens. Access to health is a fundamental human right.
Under the Maputo Protocol for example, Uganda together with over 30 other African countries explicitly agreed to prioritise the realisation of women’s reproductive health rights. Article 14 of this the Maputo protocol upholds women’s rights to control their fertility, decide whether or not to have children, the number of children and spacing of children and the method of contraception to use.
In addition, it calls for protection of reproductive rights of women by authorising abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and when the continued pregnancy threatens the life of the mother and unborn baby.
But, 26 years later, women and girls’ human rights and bodily autonomy continues to be routinely violated, through denial of access to contraception information and services, and criminalization and stigmatisation of access to safe and legal abortion.
The government has not ope-rationalised article 22(2) of the constitution as a way of regulating safe and legal abortion in Uganda.
Universal Health coverage will only be achieved when all people are able to enjoy their right to bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive self-determination.
Today, as the international community commemorate the International Safe Abortion Day which fall on every 28th of September, I urge the government and other stakeholders to respect, protect and fulfil women and girls’ human rights and realise reproductive justice for all. This year’s theme is; Abortion is Health care.
Let us ensure the availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of sexual and reproductive health services as part of universal health coverage and public health systems, including modern contraceptive options, comprehensive abortion and post-abortion care.
The stigma and restrictions around abortion only push women into unsafe abortion, risking their health and lives.
It is time to ensure that abortion is health care accessible under the grounds defined by the constitution of Uganda and the regional human rights framework, especially the Maputo Protocol.
Umar Weswala is an independent health blogger