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Breaking the Barriers Project courts MPs on Termination of Pregnancy Bill, calls for its enactment to empower women

Breaking the Barriers Project – a project being implemented by a consortium of four civil society organizations (CSOs) in Malawi – has intensified its efforts to lobby members of Parliament (MPs) to debate and pass the Termination of Pregnancy (TOP) Bill into law.

The bill seeks to empower women and girls to seek comprehensive sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) services when faced with unwanted and unplanned pregnancies.

The debate around the Termination of Pregnancy Bill has been intense, with proponents arguing for the protection of women’s rights to make decisions about their bodies and health, while opponents raise concerns about the sanctity of life and moral implications.

But this has not derailed the CSOs in their demand for the legalization of safe abortion.

On Thursday, a consortium of CSOs comprising Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRRC), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Malawi SRHR Alliance and Centre for Solution Journalism (CSJ) held a dialogue meeting with selected committees of parliament on comprehensive SRHR services and TOP Bill.

Amplify Change financed the dialogue, which sought to facilitate an open and constructive dialogue among committee members, and stakeholders on the key provisions of the bill.

In his presentation during the meeting, vice chairperson of the Coalition of Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA), Dr. Amos Nyaka, told lawmakers that unsafe abortion remains a leading – but preventable – cause of maternal deaths and morbidities. It can lead to physical and mental health complications and social and financial burdens for women, communities and health systems.

“Research has shown that the proportion of abortions that are unsafe is much higher in countries where laws are more restrictive such as Malawi,” said Nyaka.

In his remarks, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) Executive Director, Michael Kaiyatsa, said comprehensive SRH rights as fundamental human rights that encompass a wide range of issues, including access to reproductive health services, information, and education.

CHRR Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa

Kaiyatsa observed that in Malawi, like many other countries, SRHR remains a critical yet often challenging area to address due to a variety of factors, including cultural norms, limited access to healthcare services, and legal restrictions.

He said it is against this background that the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill seeks to amend these restrictive laws, aiming to expand access to safe and legal abortion services in certain circumstances, such as cases of rape, incest, severe malformation and physical /mental health,” he said.

“As Malawi strives to achieve its development goals and fulfill its international obligations, including those under the Maputo Protocol, the need for a comprehensive approach to SRHR, including access to safe abortion services, becomes increasingly apparent,” he said.

Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Dr. Matthews Ngwale, commended the project for facilitating the dialogue, stressing that such engagements help to create awareness on critical issues.

Ngwale said as lawmakers, they are equally concerned with the number of girls and women who lose their lives to unsafe abortion.

Among others, the dialogue sought to provide Members of the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament with a comprehensive overview of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill and the magnitude of unsafe abortion in Malawi.

It also intended to address concerns, seek input, and clarify misconceptions regarding the bill to enhance informed decision-making and to foster a collaborative environment for knowledge exchange and networking among participants.

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