LEGISLATORS have called for a review of the Termination of Pregnancy Act, which was enacted in 1977, but lawmakers say is now out of tune with the times in the face of rising illegal abortions.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
Abortion is seen as a social taboo, but while some countries in southern Africa have made strides in changing abortion policies, Zimbabwe has continued to enforce the legislation which lawmakers say is now archaic.
At least 60 000 illegal abortions are performed in the country annually, according to official data.
Speaking at a recent Women’s Action Group (WAG) meeting on dissemination of abortion knowledge and attitudes towards research findings, legislators from various committees said it was now time to revisit the Act to suit the current situation.
“We need a symposium where this issue can once and for all be clarified and a position reached. There are other considerations that we need to factor into the existing law to accommodate other situations,” MDC Alliance Proportional Representation MP Ruth Labode said.
She pointed out that the current Act was loaded with grey areas which made it difficult even for those who qualify to have a legal abortion.
Abortion in this country is only legal under Section 4 of the Termination of Pregnancy Act which states that termination of a foetus is legal only when the life of the mother and her physical health is threatened or where there is a risk that the child to be born will suffer from physical or mental defects of such a nature that it will be permanently or seriously handicapped.
Illegal abortions are tried under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the offenders, if found guilty, are liable to a fine not exceeding level 10 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or both.
Explaining the gaps and challenges caused by the Act, Abigail Matsvai from the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) said the law should respond to the current situation.
“There are a lot of gaps within the Act and this has made it difficult even for those that qualify to access services,” she said.
Matsvai pointed out that there had been few amendments and yet the grounds for abortion are limited and society has changed.
“Accessibility can be cumbersome and ambiguous. Also issues like marital rape are not included in the Act and yet they exist,” she said.
Citing the case of a Chegutu woman (name withheld) who was raped by armed robbers and failed to get an abortion on time resulting in her carrying the pregnancy to full term, Matsvai said the process was riddled with inconsistencies.
“Some of the challenges arise from demands of the Act that there should be at least two doctors and depending on the area some places do not have that luxury,” she said.
Other challenges stem from the fact that many women are not conversant with the current Act and often fail to demand abortion services as stipulated within the law.
“I am surprised we are still using this law, we need to address the gaps,” Mutasa North legislator Chido Madiwa-Tsinakwadi (Zanu PF) said.