Knowing Tanzania’s stand on abortion

Knowing Tanzania’s stand on abortion

The word ‘abortion’, in most African societies, is usually spoken in hush tones, because to some, you might as well be discussing committing murder in public.

In some African communities, when you talk about abortion, they will most probably associate it with loose behavior, fornication, irresponsibility and poor attitude. It is unfortunate that only a few people in Tanzania know that abortion, in some cases, is allowed, despite the tough stance put by the laws of the land concerning the matter.

For this group of people, it will be interesting if they knew that abortion in Tanzania is only permitted to save the life of the woman, to preserve physical health, and/or to preserve mental health.

“The most intricate moment in my career is when I try to explain to a young woman why the law does not allow her to terminate her pregnancy even when she believes that she has all the rights to do so,” says Angella Mrindoko, a volunteer community service worker working mostly in rural areas.

She says that in most cases, explaining to a young girl who has been raped or one who is underage is a difficult situation, because under the circumstances, they are not allowed by law to terminate the pregnancy.

Under the Revised Penal Code of Tanzania (chapter 16, sections 150-152) the performance of abortions is generally prohibited. Any person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman, whether she is pregnant or not, unlawfully uses any means upon her is subject to 14 years’ imprisonment.

Abortion laws have a spectrum of restrictiveness. Nations may allow abortions based on saving the mother’s life, preserving physical and mental health, and socioeconomic grounds, or may be completely unrestrictive.

Abortion related deaths are more frequent in countries with more restrictive abortion laws (34 deaths per 100,000 childbirths) than in countries with less restrictive laws (1 or fewer per 100,000 childbirths).

The same correlation appears when a given country tightens or relaxes its abortion law.

“The Penal Code provisions on termination of pregnancy are frequently misunderstood as a total prohibition on abortion. This is not the case,” says Dr.

Anna Temba, the PSI Program Manager, Reproductive Health. She says that the law on abortion does not specify who may perform a termination of pregnancy, leaving room for appropriately trained midlevel providers—such as nurses, midwives, and clinical officers—to provide the service, in addition to qualified medical practitioners.

Article 14(2)(c) of the Protocol requires governments to: “protect the reproductive rights of women by authorizing medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the (pregnant woman) or the life of the (pregnant woman)or the foetus” Dr.

Temba says that by ratifying the Protocol, the Tanzanian government is obligated under regional human rights law to ensure that safe and legal abortion is available and accessible on all of these grounds.

Because of these restrictive abortion laws, many women in Tanzania, especially young women, tend to sought for alternative methods of terminating their pregnancies.

These methods, unfortunately, most of the time includes crude and dangerous procedures, which often times than not lead to excessive bleeding and death. Unsafe abortion is defined by the World Health Organization as “a procedure for terminating an unwanted pregnancy either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment lacking minimal medical standards or both”.

This definition, however, fails to capture the full range of painful, dangerous, and often lethal methods that women resort to when they are unable to safely terminate a pregnancy.

To fully understand mainland Tanzania’s legal and policy framework on termination of pregnancy, one must take a comprehensive and holistic look at applicable international human rights law, relevant provisions from Tanzania’s Constitution, Penal Code, and national policies and case law.

The government of Tanzania has ratified the African Charter’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol). This groundbreaking Protocol represents the first time that an international human rights instrument has explicitly articulated a woman’s right to abortion in certain cases.

Although Tanzania’s Constitution makes no direct mention of termination of pregnancy or abortion, key provisions support access to safe and legal abortion services and post-abortion care.

According to Dr. Abdullah Mtalusito, a gynecologist in Tabora region, ambiguity in Tanzanian abortion law and enforcement creates fatal uncertainty for women and medical practitioners, leading many to seek unsafe abortion from unskilled providers. He says that legal vagueness also allows practitioners and pharmacists to set exorbitant prices for services and medication, creating more barriers to access for Tanzanian women.

Early last year, Vanessa Woog, researcher at the Guttmacher Institute, reported that in a study of women who were admitted to a hospital with complications from an induced abortion, 46 percent of those in rural areas and 60 percent of those in urban areas reported that the abortion had been performed by an unskilled provider.

“By clarifying and overturning restrictive abortion laws, increasing access to contraceptives, training health workers to perform abortions and to provide comprehensive post-abortion care, and making misoprostol available at an affordable price, thousands of lives can be saved,” she says.

Misoprostol, sold under the brand name Cytotec, among other things, is a medication used to prevent and treat stomach ulcers, start labor, cause an abortion, and treat postpartum bleeding due to poor contraction of the uterus. It is due to these challenges that for many years, the abortion rights movement internationally has called for “safe, legal abortion.” More recently, calls for the ‘decriminalization of abortion’ have also emerged.


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