Windhoek, Nambia -- Popular feeling has "forced" the Nambian government to abandon plans for a new legal abortion law. Health Minister Libertina Amathila confirmed yesterday that moves to introduce new legislation which would have legalized abortion have been dropped.
"Namibians don't want abortion," Amathila told The Namibian. "I can't introduce the bill in the face of public opposition." Wide-ranging consultations with communities such as the churches and radio phone-ins and letters had indicated that 99 percent of the Namibians did not want abortion legalized, according to Amathila.
"Do you want me to introduce the bill despite the negative reaction from the community? What was the reason of sending it out to the community then? I'm stuck. Once we have consulted we are supposed to follow the feeling of the people.
"If 99 per cent say no, who am I to impose it on the community?" Amathila was at pains to explain that when she was transferred to the Health Ministry the bill had already been put into the public domain for scrutiny.
Abortion advocates are up in arms and upset at how public opinion was tabulated.
Church leaders, who have strongly lobbied President Sam Nujoma against legalizing abortion, yesterday welcomed Amathila's announcement.
Bishop Kleopas Dumeni of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia was delighted that "the voice of the churches has been heard". Dumeni added that churches viewed abortion as nothing else but murder.
Former Secretary General for the Council of Churches of Namibia, Ngeno Nakamhela, said: "If it is really because of the voice of the churches we would like to welcome this decision. It is a good attitude for Government to listen to people." It is understood, however, the decision was imposed from State House.
"This is populism at its best," said a senior Government official, who insisted State House had issued the order that the bill, in its present form, should be abandoned.
The draft Abortion and Sterilisation Bill was issued for public consultation in 1996, sparking strong reaction from church groups and other pro-life agencies. The proposed law sought to legalise abortion within the first three months of pregnancy.
A pregnant woman could get an abortion on demand without the consent of her husband, partner or the natural father of the child. A woman under 16 years, however, needed the written permission of her parents, guardian or the Minister of Health and Social Services.
Abortion after 12 weeks could still be carried out if there was a so-called threat to the physical and mental well-being of mother and child. Abortions could also take place in cases of rape, incest or if the would-be mother was mentally unstable.
In 1996 Government was ready to repeal the pro-life Abortion and Sterilisation Act of 1975. The 1975 act outlaws abortion in most circumstances unless the pregnancy endangered the mother's life.
Up until last month Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kalumbi Shangula, was still saying the proposed law remained on the cards. Shangula reiterated that research was being undertaken to gather information about the social and health impacts of abortion.
Meanwhile, more Namibians are seeking abortions in South Africa where abortions were made legal two years ago. One Cape Town, South Africa abortion facility has said it performs up to 40 abortions on Namibians every month. The abortionin South Africa costs Namibian women N$770 in addition to travel and accommodation costs.
The South African government makes abortions free to its citizens.
Source: Source: April 20, 1999, The Nambian. Provided by The Pro-Life Infonet, a daily compilation of pro-life news and educational information. To subscribe, send the message "subscribe" to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Infonet is sponsored by Women and Children First (http://www.prolife.org/wcf). For more pro-life info visit the Ultimate Pro-Life Resource List at http://www.prolife.org/ultimate and for questions or additional information email email@example.com