30th June 2005
Getting men to stop abortions

By Nabusayi L. Wamboka

For many young couples, sex is just fun, a game; until something starts kicking to remind them that there is more to sex than just smiles.

For Henry Kawanga, 19, the shock and panic that set in when his girlfriend of two years told him she was pregnant, turned him into a hostile lover, accusing her of cheating on him and ‘wanting to ruin his whole future.’

“Deep down I was thinking, that could mean the end of my education. My Dad can’t pay school fees for a ‘man’ with a kid. I was simply not ready to have this child,” Kawanga said.

For months, he avoided his girlfriend and when she eventually confronted him and decided she was going to have an abortion, Kawanga panicked.

“I was so afraid of this whole situation and the last thing I wanted was an abortion. I think it is a sin,” he said.
When he told his girlfriend she could not have an abortion, she almost committed suicide.

His father was supportive and committed himself to paying the girl’s school fees after she gave birth to compensate for his son’s sin.

For many men, a genuine fear of the responsibility that comes with raising children forces them to disown their girlfriends or push the girls to abort.

“Boys too, have issues. They don’t have the information to help them be more responsible in their relationships. Even where they would have loved to support the girl, there is a lot of poverty that they can’t carry that burden. Eventually they will support the girls to abort,” said Hassan Hussein, an accounting consultant.
Hussein however says his religion – Islam – does not permit abortion.

A 2005 report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute says unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion rank high among the serious health problems facing Uganda. The report, titled ‘Reducing Unintended Pregnancy and Unsafe Abortion in Uganda’, says unplanned births represent a growing proportion of all births – almost one half in 2000, compared with one third in 1995.

“With such high levels of unplanned child bearing, it is likely that abortion is becoming increasingly common. Evidence suggests that abortion to end unwanted pregnancies is widespread, that it is usually performed clandestinely in unsafe conditions and that unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal death in Uganda,” it said.

Theologians offer different interpretations of Christian teachings on the issue. Speaking at a workshop on abortion organised by Ipas, an NGO that campaigns for the protection of women’s health and advancing women’s reproductive rights, Rev. Prof. David Kyeyune of the Uganda Catholic Secretariat, said the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was a liberating and transforming event in the mission of the Church.

“Before the Council, the Roman- Catholic Church was putting emphasis on its pyramidical structures at the expense of the life and dignity of believers. The church was notorious with its commanding: don’t make abortion. Abortion is sinful,” he said.

That commanding language has been changed into persuasive and healing language to enable people appreciate human life, human dignity and parenthood.

Rev. Aaron Mwesigye, Provincial Secretary of the Church of Uganda, says that the Church performs pre and post abortion counselling.

“The Church of Uganda has been preaching against abortion, however it needs to perform a proactive role…through research and advocacy against unsafe abortion among its members especially the youth,” he said.

Women in Africa face the highest risk of death from abortion related complications. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than five million unsafe abortions take place in Africa each year. Worldwide, millions of women risk their lives and health to end an unwanted pregnancy. Everyday, 55,000 unsafe abortions take place – 95% of them in developing countries. This leads to the deaths of more than 200 women daily globally, and approximately 2-6 in Uganda.

According to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey, Uganda’s Maternal Mortality Rates stand at 500 deaths per 100,000 live births and of these deaths, between 8% -23% are attributed to abortion-related complications, including but not limited to chronic pelvic pain, pelvic inflammatory disease, tubal blockage and secondary infertility.

Dr. Olive Sentumbwe Mugisa, a Family and Population Health advisor at WHO, says about 6,000 women die annually in Uganda due to pregnancy related causes; 8 percent of these (or 480) die due to complications related to abortion.
Longterm problems caused by unsafe abortions include chronic pelvic pain, pelvic inflammatory disease, tubal blockage and secondary infertility.

Treatment of abortion-related complications often requires several days of hospitalisation and staff time, as well as blood transfusion, antibiotics, pain control medications and other drugs.

According to Dr. Ssentumbwe, many women seeking abortion are married or live in stable unions and already have several children. They seek abortions primarily to limit the size of their family or to space the births.

Several reasons given for the high rate of abortions include non-use of contraception which accounts for the majority of unwanted pregnancies, contraceptive failure, sexual coercion and rape, lack of control over contraception, abandonment or unstable relationships, mental or physical health problems, severe malformation of the foetus, financial constraints and the need to continue with education or with a job.