Kenya lifts ban on Marie Stopes abortion services after warning lives are at risk

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28/01/2019 12:00 am

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The Kenyan government has lifted a ban preventing the international charity Marie Stopes from providing any abortion services, following warnings the ruling endangered the lives of thousands of women.

The Kenyan ministry of health said on Thursday that an audit of Marie Stopes’ clinics had been completed and that the charity could resume post-abortion care services under “regular supervision”.

In November, Marie Stopes Kenya was accused of running radio adverts promoting terminations. The organisation said the audit confirmed it complied with all laws and regulations.

Abortions are illegal in Kenya, unless a woman’s life or health is in danger.

Every day, 320 Kenyan women are hospitalised and seven die as a result of dangerous backstreet abortions, according to Marie Stopes. The charity runs 23 centres across the country providing care for those who have had complications after a botched abortion or who have miscarried.

The charity said it was pleased to confirm that it would resume its work to reduce maternal deaths in Kenya.

The lifting of the ban followed campaigning from health and women’s rights groups, who warned it was unconstitutional, irrational and risked driving women and girls to backstreet clinics. In November, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a case at the the high court challenging the ruling.

In the first few days of the ban, one Marie Stopes clinic turned away 35 women needing post-abortion care, said Jade Maina, executive director of the Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health, which campaigned for the ban to be lifted. “That’s just one facility,” she added.

Maina said that the suspension of Marie Stopes services has had a chilling effect on women’s health services: “A lot of individual providers were definitely looking and saying – if Marie Stopes can be shut down or sanctioned in this way, what does that mean for individual healthcare providers?”

On Twitter, women and pro-choice activists used the hashtag #DearCSSicilyKariuki to urge Sicily Kariuki, cabinet secretary of the ministry of health, to take action. Anti-abortion campaigners, who women’s rights groups say are increasingly vocal, also sent messages supporting the ban. One Twitter user said Kariuki should “not heed to pressure from foreigners selling death camouflaged as health services in this country”.

The International Women’s Health Coalition welcomed Kariuki’s decision, which it said was down to tireless campaigning by activists. “By mobilising against the ban on abortion on social media, women made it clear that they will not sit idly by as the government attempts to roll back their rights and access to health care,” said Erin Williams, programme officer for IWHC.

Pro-choice advocates faced an increasingly hostile climate, added Maina. “Every time we get a success like this [the end of the ban], the resulting factor has been anti-abortion groups strategise and regroup and come back at us even stronger.”

According to the latest Kenyan government health survey conducted in 2014, 18% of women aged between 15 and 19 were mothers or pregnant with their first child.

A spokesperson for Marie Stopes Kenya said: “Following an audit of our clinics by the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists’ Board, they have been assured that our services comply with Kenyan laws and regulations.

“We are grateful to the board for recognising [post-abortion care] as a serious issue and for their commitment to ensuring that women have the safe healthcare they so desperately need. We will continue to work closely with the board towards our shared goal of reducing maternal deaths in Kenya.”

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