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Kenya: Religious leaders oppose anti-abortion clerics

Publication Date: 
September 17, 2011

Two clerics yesterday dismissed doctors and religious leaders opposed to safe abortion as enemies of women rights. The christian and muslim clerics said the abortion debate in Kenya was demeaning to women. “In this society we are all at the mercy of men,” said Rev Timothy Njoya.

He spoke at the closing day of a women health conference organised by the Kenya Medical Association. Rev Njoya was joined by Sheikh Abdallah Kheir, a psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University. Abdallah said Islam permitted abortion under some conditions before the foetus is 120 days old. “These include rape but after 120 days nothing can be done about it,” he said.

 The two refused to expressly vouch for safe abortion but Njoya said religious morality should not be imposed on people. “Morality in Kenya should be consistent with the preservation of life for women,” said Njoya, who leads his NGO called Men for Empowerment of Women. The KMA meeting is looking for ways to increase women's to access pregnancy termination services in line with the new constitution.

 The constitution permits abortion if a trained health professional feels there is “need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.” A group of doctors opposed to abortion boycotted the meeting on Thursday saying the pro-abortion lobby was simply using maternal health as an excuse to campaign for abortion in Kenya.  “It is a naked attempt to campaign for abortion in Kenya,” said Dr Kizito Asava.

 Abortion under certain circumstances has always been legal in Kenya but obstetricians yesterday said only rich women benefited. Evelyne Opondo of the Ipas Africa Alliance criticised the government for “rushing” to offer care services to survivors of unsafe abortion. “We should detect and manage unwanted pregnancy in good time,” she said.

 In the meeting yesterday, University of Nairobi’s anthropologist Owuor Olungah said many African societies always practised abortion in cases of incest or rape. “If anything is not working for us, we try to westernize it,” he said. He said the Luo and Luhya used herbs to terminate pregnancies while the Rendille, Samburu and Meru used other traditional methods. Yesterday’s meeting was also addressed by Moi University medicine lecturer Dr Lukoye Atwoli and Dr Paul Kizito of the National Coordinating Agency for Population and Development.