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The Legal Framework Governing Abortion in Uganda. Analyzing the Public Health and Human Rights implications

Prof. Ben Twinomugisha has recommended legalizing Abortion in Uganda because the laws in place are controversial adding that this will enable access to safe legal abortion.

While talking as a Key note speaker at a Public Dialogue convened to hold a discussion about Abortion and the Legal Framework that governs it in Uganda. Prof. Twinomugisha said this would help reduce on the high maternal morbidity and mortality in Uganda.

The event held at the Central Teaching Facility I hall in Makerere University was co organized by the Public Interest Law Clinic and HRAF.

It drew the participation of a number of participants from the academia, civil society, students and the general public.

Prof. Twinomugisha in his presentation talked of scenarios where Abortion would be justified citing pregnancies that arose from incest, rape or an extra marital relationships. ‘Imagine a scenario where a young girl of P.5 defiled by a teacher gets pregnant. How would you handle this?  Put yourself in the minds of the person with an unplanned pregnancy’ he said.

While referring to the World Health Organization definition of Health, he said health was a state of complete mental and physical health, whereas Abortion was described as the termination of a pregnancy before it got viable at 28 weeks.  He described abortion as a spontaneous and intended end of the pregnancy, adding that unfortunately, the deliberate termination of a pregnancy in was criminal in Uganda.

Prof. Twinomugisha said in Uganda, there were many incidences of abortion most of which were unsafe.  He said for abortions to be safe, they ought to be administered by a qualified person.  He noted that such unsafe abortions are even conducted in unhealthy environment and that this contributed 26 percent of maternal deaths in Uganda.

He pointed out that although The Penal Code Act penalizes abortion, the Constitution in Section  22 (2)  provides for terminating an un born child through performance of a surgical procedure to save a life of the mother.

While addressing himself on the Ethical point of view, Prof. Twinomugisha said the natural law point of view that includes all Christian religions and faith is against abortion but allows it for purposes of saving the lives of women.    He said Islam, Budhism like Christianity prohibits abortions but allows it in the event of rape, incest or defilement.   The law don noted that such unsafe abortion allowances were being abused leading to morbidity due to incomplete abortions and related issues of human dignity.  He made reference to policies and guidelines in place in the country that make provisions for abortions.

He said the messages ought to begin with encouraging women to increase uptake of family planning methods to avoid pregnancies. ‘The first message is abstaining from sex if not, use a condom and pills.  He said that in addition, the woman's right to carry a baby should be respected as provided for in the guidelines for foster care in incidences where for instance due to trauma and psychological challenges, a mother is not in position to nurse her baby to avoid incidences of infanticide.

In her opening remarks on behalf of the Coordinator PILAC, Ms. Patricia Atim welcomed participants and the partner organizations to the event. She said the School of Law and PILAC in particular values the continued partnerships with organizations like The Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) and HRAF for their continued support towards objectives aimed at promoting social justice and human rights.

She said both organizations and other have in the past provided internship opportunities for Law students, which is one of the core outputs of PILAC.  She said PILAC is also undertakes community outreaches aimed at creating community Law literacy, Student Moots, Public Lectures all of which are part of the CLE activities. 

While addressing herself on Abortion, the topic of the day abortion, she said this was a real challenge that is rampant in our communities.  “we must talk about it and think critically about how to address maternal deaths arising from abortions’ she said.

Ms. Susan Baluku from HRAF one of the organizers of the dialogue said a lot of women lose their lives as they engage in abortion.  She said HRAF as an organization gives legal advice to girls and women get safe abortion options as well as promoting advocacy and that such a for a was important since it would give information to people that needed it.