Activists opposed to the Reproductive Health Bill that among other things legalises abortion want it withdrawn from regional East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).
The bill that was tabled before EALA has clauses that legalise abortion, tackle Gender-Based Violence, agree to commercialise surrogacy, and for students to have comprehensive Sexuality Education.
An online petition against the bill circulating on various social media platforms is seeking to raise ten thousand signatures from all the East Africa Community member countries by August when the next EALA session opens.
Jonathan Opio, Executive Director of Human Life International, a non-profit says the bill is ill-intentioned and seeks to erode morals and foster exploitation of especially desperate women.
“All these laws are not needed for our people. If a woman told me in their private life that they had an abortion its their life – you cannot control anyone’s private life. I would not support any law that authorises children to use contraceptives, they are not supposed to have sex … we exposing them to exploitation? Who are the owners of the contraceptives market? Are we expanding their markets to include children as clients?” he questioned.
The contested bill was re-introduced last year after failing in 2017. At the time it was called the sexual and reproductive health rights bill (2017) but it was revised to remove the word ‘rights.’ “They removed the word rights hoping that people will not see that it is not controversial. But the content in it is worse than that of 2017,” said Opio.
“We have issues with most of the people they invited for public hearings. These were working for organisation that are for sexual reproductive health rights work activities,” said Opio.
Over the last two weeks, there have been public hearings in EALA member countries from including Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and Uganda on the bill where various individuals and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) were invited to share their views about what should be included or left out of the controversial bill. Those they consulted cannot reach more than 300.
However, the petitioners who include the clergy and members of the organizations under the Life and Family Foundation, said the invitations were sent to supporters of the bill and views gathered were not balanced.
They also say the financing of the hearings was done by organizations such as Mariestopes that are known to promote abortion instead of by EALA. This they say has brought unbalanced views on the table.
For them, countries already have enough laws to protect the rights of children and those that spell out under what circumstances an abortion may be offered.
For instance, Stephen Langa, who heads the Family Life Network, says while the new law is pushing to empower children with the knowledge to among others cut teenage pregnancies, young people don’t have the emotional capacity to discuss and make sense of such without parental guidance.
” Instead of helping children to be what they should be they sexualise them and draw them towards sexual activity and sexual involvement. This is more destructive because they do not have emotional capacity to handle sexual capacity,” said Langa.
He says every child has their own body clock in the area of sexuality and it’s wrong to choose for them a size that fits all. Instead they should get age appropriate information. “People’s sexuality is a complex growth but we know that they need proper moral growth”.
But, such views are deemed out of touch with reality by activists pushing for the bill. One of them is Prima Kwagala, the Executive Director of the Women’s Pro Bono Initiative (WPI), which provides legal aid to women. She says because of such sentiments, there’s an information gap in the region as far as sexual reproductive health is concerned.
She also notes that because of the information gap, there are a lot of stereotypes that affect access and use of vital health services such as contraceptives.
“When you talk about sexual and reproductive health issues there is so much opposition it in terms of access. If you have a ten year old who asks about contraceptives sometimes they are just asking to gain information and make or to know about sex and sexuality but everyday assumes they want to engage in sex,” said Kwagala.
According to Kwagala, the new law comes in handy, especially in Uganda, which still uses an old law drafted in the 1950s that criminalizes abortion, and yet a progressive date law would deal with new concerns such as quack abortion service providers who have led to unnecessary loss of lives.
While the initial 2017 proposed law was tabled by then Rwandan Representative, Dr. Odette Nyiramilimo, it was re-introduced to the assembly by a South Sudan member Ayason Kennedy Mukulia late last year.