Reproductive Rights continue to be a heated debate in Zimbabwean courts. This is indicative of how women’s bodies and sexuality continues to be regulated and governed by the State. Religious dogma contributes to this framework by bringing a moral lens to the debate, making abortion murder and a taboo.
Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law and Codification Reform Act, Section 60 states that
– “any person who intentionally terminates a pregnancy.
– Or terminates a pregnancy by conduct which he or she realizes involves a real risk or possibility of terminating the pregnancy;
shall be guilty of unlawful termination of pregnancy and liable to a fine not exceeding level ten or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or both.”
While abortion remains criminalized and loud Reproductive Rights debates happen in legal and religious halls. Thousands of young women are silently pushed into dark allies where they are undergoing illegal and unsafe abortion procedures. While the State and Churches turn their backs on young women basing their arguments on ethics, abortion is contributing to high mortality rates.
Legally criminalizing abortion creates barriers that prevents young women from accessing safe healthcare services. UNICEF reports that every year 70 000 Zimbabwean young women undergo illegal abortions. This is due to easily accessible illegal abortions sites in dark corners, or for those who opt to pay upto US$500 in private clinics.
Access to legal abortions on the other hand is limited to specific cases. SayWhat a registered Trust states that “in cases of rape or incest, a signed certificate by the magistrate and a police report are required before an abortion takes place.” The legality, unchanging values and societal attitudes make abortion a complex issue. However, the high rates of abortion highlights a reality that should not be treated as a moral debate, but a public health concern.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), argues that Zimbabwe needs to be progressive in enacting legislation that allows women to make choices.
“This we believe will go a long way in protecting and promoting the sexual and reproductive rights of the women and adolescent girls, failure of which is a violation of women’s rights to life, to health, to reproductive self-determination and right to right to the enjoyment of the benefits of scientific progress among others,” ZADHR in a statement.
ZADHR calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to repeal the Termination of Pregnancy Act. ZADHR also argues that this will remove barriers that prevent women from accessing safe reproductive health services that allow women to take responsibility of their reproductive health.