International Safe Abortion Day, 28 September 2022. The East African country of Uganda presents worrying statistics for unintended pregnancies resulting in unsafe abortions. The unintended pregnancy rate increased 19% between 1990–1994 and 2000–2004 and decreased 16% by 2015–2019. During the same period, the abortion rate increased 27%. The share of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion rose from 24% to 30%. (Guttmacher).
Abortion debates divide lawmakers and lobbyists across the board. Opponents of safe abortion include religious institutions, policy makers, traditional families and cultural institutions who continue to stigmatize, discriminate, isolate, stereotype and condemn girls and women who have procured abortions. While these girls and women languish in pain, mental suffering and are psychologically tortured, anti-abortion crusaders ignore these detrimental effects and fail to recognize a woman’s bodily autonomy rights.
Women’s lives are threatened by Unsafe Abortions
The Ugandan Constitution, in Article 22, item 2 states: "No person has the right to terminate the life of an unborn child except as may be authorized by law. Abortion is thus criminalized in Uganda unless it is done by a licensed and registered physician to save a woman's life or preserve the physical or mental health of the woman.
Even where legally permissive, there remains a myriad of limitations to accessing abortion services, such as: beliefs and norms, travel-related logistical issues, limited clinic options and financial constraints.
To address these challenges, the Community Health Rights Network (COHERINET), an organization that aims to advocate, advance, promote and defend the sexual reproductive health rights of the vulnerable and marginalized key populations in Uganda, works to increase abortion information and services through the AUNT KAKI toll-free free helpline.
AUNT KAKI is a 24-hour, 7-days a week live counselling and referral option hub on sexual reproductive health rights information. Services are available in English, Luganda, Runyankole, Luo and Swahili on the helpline numbers 0800 247 247 or 0800 347 347.
In a study of over 100,000 women over a period of four years from 2017 - 2021 about their views and experiences on abortion undertaken by COHERINET, results showed that negative cultural and religious beliefs are major barriers for provision, availability, and uptake for safe abortion care services. 60% of those interviewed said they had attempted unsafe abortion methods to end unwanted pregnancies.
One such example is Naigaga, a 22-year-old who was having unprotected sex with her boyfriend. She one morning, consulted with her female colleague who offered to buy her a pregnancy test which turned out to be positive. On asking about where she can have the pregnancy terminated, her colleague said she didn’t know of any hospital that offered the service in their community.
Afraid, Naigaga went to a community health center where she was asked to return with her boyfriend. She didn’t receive much help from the service providers, whom she says left her feeling humiliated. Luckily, her friend connected her to the AUNT KAKI toll free helpline through which she received counselling and respectful referral services. Was it not for the AUNT KAKI helpline, one wonders what Naigaga would have done next in desperation.
How many more women and girls are undergoing great challenges due to unwanted pregnancies? When should women and girls have a right to bodily autonomy? COHERINET believes the time is now, not tomorrow.
COHERINET endeavors to bring equity into the lives of girls and women by continuously educating them about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, and always sharing the AUNT KAKI toll-free helpline where help and guidance is needed.
COHERINET organizes outreach activities with learning institutions and communities to share information and guidance on methods of safe termination of pregnancy, circumstances under which services are offered in accordance with the constitutional laws of Uganda, and the need for breaking the silence on abortion as a healthcare and human rights issue.
On 28 September, International Safe Abortion Day, we stand with others around the world to say that women and girls deserve the right to control their own bodies and to access safe abortion care when they need it. Safe abortion is healthcare.
The Community Health Rights Network (COHERNET) is a Non-Government Organization that was established in November 2013 to Advocate, Advance, promote and defend Sexual Reproductive Health Rights not limited to abortion for vulnerable and marginalized key populations from Community grassroots levels in Uganda. For more information contact via email: [email protected] or [email protected]