sad woman lying in bed

What does the Kenyan law say about abortion?

By Mical Imbukwa
In 2019, the untimely death of 37-year-old Kenyan human rights activist and mother of two, Caroline Mwatha, shed light on the serious consequences of unsafe abortions.

Mwatha lost her life due to complications arising from a botched abortion, where a post-mortem examination revealed excessive bleeding caused by a rupture at the rear of her uterus.

Caroline’s tragic fate triggered the arrest of six individuals, including the owner of the clinic responsible for the fatal procedure. Her story, however, is not an isolated incident, as numerous women in Kenya face similar risks when seeking abortion services from unqualified practitioners.

Amnesty International Kenya, responding to Mwatha’s death, stated that her demise was a result of a system failure that permits the existence of substandard abortion clinics. The organization argued that the responsibility lies not only with those directly involved in her death but also with a system that fails to provide safe and legal abortion services.

Alarming statistics provided by the Kenya Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society (KOGS) reveal the magnitude of the problem. An estimated 2600 women die annually in Kenya due to unsafe abortions, and an additional 21,000 women are hospitalized yearly due to complications arising from incomplete abortions—whether spontaneous or induced.

The World Health Organization (WHO) paints a grim picture of the abortion landscape in Kenya, characterizing it as almost always illegal and unsafe. This severe situation arises from procedures conducted by individuals lacking the necessary skills or in environments that do not meet minimal medical standards.

Delving into Kenya’s legal framework, Article 26 (4) of the Constitution (2010) permits abortion only when, in the opinion of a trained health professional, emergency treatment is necessary or the life or health of the mother is in danger. However, the law generally does not allow abortion on grounds such as rape, incest, fetal impairment, or a woman’s mental health.

This legal stance clashes with the United Nations’ perspective, which links women’s sexual and reproductive health to human rights. These include the right to life, freedom from torture, the right to health, privacy, education, and the prohibition of discrimination.

In conclusion, Caroline Mwatha’s tragic death emphasizes the urgent need for reform in Kenya’s abortion laws and healthcare system. Balancing the legal landscape with the protection of women’s rights is crucial to ensure safe and accessible reproductive health services, preventing further loss of lives due to unsafe abortions.

One life lost, is one too many! Let’s speak up against the oppressive abortion laws. Your voice counts, and sharing this article is a step towards initiating change by ensuring it reaches the relevant stakeholders.

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