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Amorous Old Men and Kenya’s Waning Reproductive Rights

February 24, 2010

Image copyright ACLU

The headline alone could have been cribbed from The Onion: “Most Abortions Now Blamed on Amorous Old Men.” The article goes on to quote a survey that found high abortion rates among young women in central Kenya are due to the philandering of older men.  There are so many things wrong with that thesis I don’t know where to start.

But this article is just one more in a long line of sensationalist and slanted articles on an issue (abortion) that is like a match in a country of tinder.  That latest: Kenya’s new constitution will protect life from conception. (steaming mad face).

While in Kenya this summer, I wrote about the country’s troubled constitutional review process and the precarious state of reproductive rights.  Abortion is already highly restricted despite unsafe abortion being a near-epidemic public health issue, disproportionately burdening low-income and uneducated women.

Now, despite some promising ups, things are looking very, very down.  The current draft of Kenya’s constitution now contains “fetal personhood” language, sanctifying life as beginning at conception and effectively outlawing abortion in all cases, and perhaps even some uses of contraception.

This thorough RH Reality Check post by Ipas’ Gillian Kane puts it well.  The Kenyan Government caved, not surprisingly, to extreme anti-choice religious right, who promised to flex their grassroots muscle, mobilizing millions to vote down the draft constitution if it did not have explicitly prohibitive language on abortion. The draft as it stood had completely neutral language, mind you (well, guaranteed a right to health for all individuals.  How radical!).

Kane makes the important point that opposition to reproductive rights is better connected than we might every think: the same group that pushed the Tebow Super Bowl ad, Focus on the Family, is, in part, behind these oppressive antics in Kenya.

There has been much ado in Kenya press, and global press for that matter – wherever abortion is a touchy subject – about “when life begins.” This is admittedly one of those arcane, unwinnable topics that you just don’t want to touch… it’s a moving target depending on a number of factors, and you certainly don’t want to try and answer that in a document codifying the laws and future of a country, right?  Well, Kenya is joining the ranks of Zambia, Uganda, and the Northern Mariana Islands in doing so.

The thesis of one recent Kenyan op-ed is, “When does life begin? Doctors and Members of Parliament differ.”  Um, yep, that doesn’t surprise me.  The thrust should not be to solve this question once and for all, because that won’t happen.  Rather the point should be this is not a constitutional issue.

If a woman’s life is in danger, she will not be able to get an abortion in Kenya.  And as it is, it’s pretty damn hard to get an abortion there – the procedure is legal only to save a woman’s life or health, and even then barely accessible.

And lest we think this nuttiness is far from home, let’s remember the relentless “Personhood Amendments” coming our way on US state ballots, year after year.  It’s like a steady stream of inanity, but what’s scary is that much of it has been successful.

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  1. Nicaragua: “pro-life” a cruel misnomer « Gender Across Borders

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