KENYA: Catholic bishops deny widespread abortion

clergyCatholic bishops have dismissed a scientific study conducted by the government in partnership with several respected institutions that reveals widespread abortion among women and girls in Kenya.

The clerics did not state any grounds for trashing the report, titled ‘Incidence and Complications of Unsafe Abortion in Kenya: Key Findings of a National Study’. They only restated the well-known Catholic stand against abortion.

The findings published a few weeks ago indicate that an astounding 464,690 induced abortions were carried out in Kenya in 2012. Based on patient-specific data, women who sought abortion-related care were socially, demographically and economically heterogeneous. They included educated and uneducated women, urban and rural women, Christians, Muslims, and women of ‘other faiths’; students, unemployed and employed women as well as married, never-married and divorced women.

The study found a rate of 48 abortions per 1000 women of reproductive age (15-49 years), or 30 abortions per 100 births in 2012.

Abortion is illegal in Kenya, which means the procedure is performed secretly and often by unqualified persons in unsafe conditions. But under the 2010 constitution, which the bishops opposed in vain during the referendum, the procedure may be granted to a pregnant woman or girl when, in the opinion of a trained health professional, she needs emergency treatment or her life or health is in danger.

Abortion is a major cause of illness among women in Kenya, the study says. About 23 percent of the women who presented for post-abortion care had mild complications, 40 percent had moderately severe and 37 percent had severe complications (such as high fever, sepsis, shock, or organ failure).

Severe complications of unsafe abortions were most common among women aged 10-19 (45 percent), divorced women (56 percent), and women who reported to the provider that they had interfered with the continuation of the pregnancy (58 percent).

The nationwide survey was led by the African Population and Health Research Center and the Ministry of Health with technical assistance from Ipas and the Guttmacher Institute. Other partners on the study were the Division of Reproductive Health, Kenya Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, Kisumu Medical and Education Trust, Kenya Medical Association, Kenyatta National Hospital and the Population Studies and Research Institute, University of Nairobi.

On September 2, 2013, Kenya’s Catholic bishops stated that after “carefully studying the report” they were “disturbed” by the abortion figures, which they dismissed as “questionable” and were being used to “scare Kenyans”. But the church leaders did not explain how they arrived at this conclusion.

“We appeal to all Kenyans to resist any attempts to sneak in abortion into our constitution by deliberately seeking to scare Kenyans through questionable statistics with the sole aim of legalizing abortion,” said a statement by the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bishops condemned all forms of abortion and reaffirmed that “life is sacred from conception until natural death.”

It is estimated that 266 Kenyan women die per 100,000 unsafe abortions. “Compared to other countries in East Africa where similar data have been gathered, Kenya’s rates of induced abortion, proportion of abortion complications categorized as severe, and the abortion complication fatality rate remain disproportionately high,” the new report says.

More than 70 percent of women seeking post-abortion care were not using a method of contraception prior to becoming pregnant, the study found.

In a preface to the report, Kenya’s Director of Medical Services Dr Francis Kimani, said: “It is clear from the evidence in this report that improving women’s access to affordable and effective family planning and/or contraception is key to preventing unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion.”

The Catholic Church, which is the largest Christian group in Kenya, opposes the use of contraceptives.

To read the new study, go to: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/abortion-in-Kenya.pdf

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