Rwanda: religious beliefs hinder safe abortion – Activists

Sexual and reproductive health activists have cited religious beliefs as some of the obstacles to obtaining a safe abortion and the implementation of the abortion law, affecting many people, especially young people.

This was highlighted during a weekly show on the national broadcaster which is dubbed The Square which aired on Wednesday December 1 and featured as panelists Dr Aflodis Kagaba, the executive director of the Development Initiative of health (HDI), Chantal Umuhoza, an activist for gender equality and Dr Eugène Ngoga, president of the Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Rwanda.

The conversation revolved around the ministerial decree on abortion which was approved by the cabinet in 2019, but the journey to draft it began ten years ago when the penal code was drafted in 2009.

According to the ministerial order, some of the conditions under which safe abortion can be obtained, who can do it and where it can be done.

Highlighting however some of the challenges in the implementation of this instrument, Kagaba said that there are religious leaders who still do not want to follow the narrative, which he believes brings no solution at all.

“But whatever the circumstances, if a woman wants to have an abortion, nothing can oppose it. She can even use dangerous traditional means which can end up ending her life,” he said.

Each year, more than 24,000 women seek emergency medical treatment following unsafe abortions, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health.

“In recent years, some people boycotted our meetings just because there was a topic on abortion, and we had to rename it to sexual and reproductive health. This even includes our female-dominated parliament. When the abortion bill was passed, 7 women categorically denied the law, ”Kagaba recalled, adding that many cite religious beliefs that make the subject taboo.

Umuhoza warned that some clerics have assumed God’s position to judge mankind.

“It is indeed a big problem because I have been attacked several times, but for the clergymen, if you think it is a sin, do not become God, do not become judge. Leave it to God to take care of it. decide and let others save lives, ”she said, in favor of early contraception as a way to prevent more cases of abortion.

Charles Haba, one of the talk show’s resident panelists, then called on faith-based and faith-based organizations to sit down at a panel discussion and join the activists’ path in addressing issues of sexual and reproductive health.

“Religious leaders need to understand that young people have more sex than married couples. So, are they going to change this overnight? But the sooner they accept to face this reality, the better the problem will be tackled because it is a fact of life. that we all have to face, ”he said.

We know more cases of teenage pregnancy in rural and remote areas, Haba added, so it’s not a third world problem, teaching us that we should not tire ourselves medically or politically.

Dr Ngoga also welcomed the approval of the ministerial decree, citing that it provided doctors with legal opportunities to save lives, support and help patients who often needed abortions.

Lack of safe means of abortion often leads to teenage pregnancies.

Figures from the Ministry of Health indicate that 17,849 teenage pregnancies were recorded in 2016 and increased to 17,337 in 2017.

The numbers rose to 19,832 in 2018 and reached 23,628 in 2019, but declined slightly in 2020 to 19,701 cases.

The Rwanda Investigation Bureau also reported that it arrested 4,452 sex offenders between 2020 and early 2021.

Ruth R. Culp