One abortion granted by Rwandan courts since 2012

Only one request for procurement of an abortion has been granted by a court in Rwanda in the past 10 years.

The revelation by a Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) report has galvanised demands by pro-abortion activists and lawyers for the amendment of the related Penal Code clauses to be expedited. The isolated case was granted due to pregnancy from rape.

Saying the lone approval was a minute fraction when computed against the 2,644 pregnancy termination requests recorded from eight hospitals between July 2012 and June 2014, the activists have raised the red flag on the Penal Code higher.

The survey says 312 women had authorised abortions between August and December last year, lending credence to the need to ease the process.

While officials blame the situation on bureaucracy, the government plans to table an amendment to the law so as to cut the red tape.

Without elaborating, Rwanda Law Reform Commission chairperson John Gara said a review of the Penal Code had begun.

Abortion is a criminal offence in Rwanda if procured without permission from a court of legal jurisprudence.

Pro-abortion activists say there is a need to include child defilement among the grounds for abortion and allow termination of a pregnancy on medical grounds if it endangers the mental or physical health of the woman.

READ: Human rights bodies fight for women to have safe abortion in Rwanda

Dr Felix Sayinzoga, the officer in charge of maternal health at RMC, called for more awareness.

“There is a need for increased collaboration between all parties involved,” he said.

Vestine Usinah Umulisa, the deputy executive director of Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development (GLIHD), said: “Article 165 of the Penal Code permits abortion in certain instances, meaning it is legal in a sense, but there are clauses that say it can only be with a court order.

“These clauses are inconsistent with the same article. The result is unwanted babies and dangerous abortions.

“We need to avoid unnecessary restrictions to practise safe abortion.”

While meeting Members of Parliament in Kigali on Monday to discuss the implementation of the African Charter on rights of women (Maputo Protocol), Ms Umulisa challenged Rwanda to honour provisions of its Article 14(ii).

Adopted in 2003, the Maputo Protocol came into effect in November 2005 after 15 of 53 African states, including Rwanda, ratified it.

The section provides for protection of the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the unborn baby.