Rethinking Abortion In Kenya and Africa

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Towards the end of September this year, a woman sparked a hot debate online when she declared that she had an abortion and she was proud of it. The response was animated and disturbing. Other women who had, had abortions came out to declare that they were proud of their decision. Christians came out and condemned the act and in my view tried as much as possible to reinforce the guilt of infanticide on these women.

Abortion is illegal in Kenya but that does not mean it doesn’t happen. My first encounter with abortion was when I was in my third year of high school and I heard that one of our school mates had died. On further investigation, it was revealed that she died in the process of trying to have an abortion. I did not know how to respond to the situation and I didn’t. I just filed it away for future use, or reference. At that age I couldn’t even process what was going on.

After reading these posts about women proudly declaring that they had an abortion, I decided to search for a person who had actually had one. I found her; One of my closest friends. She had an abortion 2 years ago. I talked to her about the abortion in view of the uproar going on about taking pride in the decision to have abortion.

She walked me through her story. This post is about understanding the emotions of a person who decides to have an abortion. I am hoping that whatever your stand, it will help you understand why people elect to have an abortion.

“I am a Christian. I am born again and I believe that Jesus came to earth to atone for my sins”, said Leila* (names and details changed to maintain anonymity). “When I was younger, I believed everything about Christianity, but with time I have come to make my own decisions. For example it used to be that Christians cannot drink alcohol, now many of them do.

Also many Christians have sex before marriage. In my teenage days this was made to look like an act, which would provoke instant and complete alienation from God. After attending many weddings with pregnant brides, I realized that this, like many other Christian beliefs were outdated and did not take into account the realities surrounding us”

I took in what Leila was telling me. It was true, Christianity had a way of changing face every now and then. Coming from a place where no singing was allowed to now when people actually sing heresy in the Church; I could not deny, the religion had changed. But what would lead Leila to a decision to have an abortion?

“I was 1 year into a new job which had prospects for a promotion. You do not get promoted when you are out on maternity leave. I had to think of that. In addition, the guy I was with wasn’t all that. He was just someone whom I passed time with. He had very few of the qualities I wanted in a man. At the beginning of the relationship, he made it clear that he wasn’t looking for anything serious; well neither was I so there was no need to intensify the situation.”

I though about this for a while; how come Leila did not think of carrying the child then giving it up for adoption? What did the ‘guy’ think about the abortion? She could always get the promotion later once the child is grown. There are many single mothers in Kenya, she wouldn’t be the first nor the last.

“I have never felt the desire to have a kid. To this ends I always use protection; just because I really do not want to deal with pregnancy issues. But the one time I did not use it, well I go pregnant. We were out on holiday, on the beach, and we decided to ‘do it’ right there and then.

It turned out to be not once or twice…but a habit that weekend. At the back of my mind I though about buying Emergency Contraception pills. By the time I got one, it was after 48 hours of having unprotected sex. I took the pill with a prayer and a sinking feeling. I come from a Christian family, which is held in high regard in the community.

No one in our family for generations has had a child out of wedlock. I wasn’t going to be the first. My mother and father are elders in the Church and have raised us in the Christian way. Much as I have been rebellious I knew that pregnancy out of wedlock would be the last straw. Combined with the tattoos, piercings and carefree lifestyle I led, my parents would be broken. So I chose to have an abortion”

Many Kenyans are single mothers and it is not as big of a deal as before so why did she feel like she couldn’t go through with it? Was it because her parents were elders in the church? I filed away that question and asked Leila how she found a place to get an abortion.

“I was desperate and devastated. First I started googling advice on home abortion. I realized really quickly that all the solutions offered were bogus and also life threatening. I had missed my period by 5 days so I knew I wasn’t that far along.

One night out of desperation, I tried to insert a foreign object into my cervix, but the pain was excruciating I couldn’t go through with it. On the 6th day, I found a clinic in Nairobi which could perform abortions because it was not registered as a government entity. I visited the clinic and they gave me tablets which initiated the abortion”

“Was it easy? What was the abortion process like, how long did it take?” I asked Leila unable to hide my curiosity

“I took the first tablet. Within two hours I was having severe cramps. I started shaking, alternating between feeling hot and cold. My body was going through severe trauma. I could not even open my eyes or move from the bed. I was stuck in a fetal position trying to understand what was happening.

I bled a lot, a whole lot. The next few days I was just bleeding. But it was over in a week. My greatest fear was that I would die and that in my death everyone would discover that I died as a result of a botched-up abortion. That is not the way I wanted to die, but I also did not want to have a baby at the time, or be pregnant for that matter”

“Do you regret it”, I asked Leila?

“No. I don’t. I actually don’t think about it much. My boyfriend never got to know about it, and he has moved on to another woman now. My family never got to know about it either. The first few days I felt guilty but then as life returned to normal I completely blocked it from my every day life.

In fact, I only think about it when I have my annual woman wellness check up and I have to say that I have never conceived, to prevent the doctor from going into many records and asking questions that I would not like to answer”

“Would you do it again, given then chance to repeat your life” I asked Leila

“I wouldn’t get pregnant again…that is for sure,” replies Leila.

This conversation got me thinking. Abortion has long been hung on the heads of women as a sin that prevents them from getting to heaven, as a wayward, unforgiveable sin. Growing up, I always though of women who procured abortion as fast and loose, probably prostitutes.

As an adult, I find it hard to judge a woman who has had an abortion. I, for one would not judge a woman who decides to terminate a pregnancy after a rape incident, or on advice from a doctor. The circumstances get dicey when we start to think about women who know that they are ok and the baby is ok.

Can we clearly judge a woman who decides not to carry a child? What are the thresholds then…one can get an IUD a week after unprotected sex and the will ensure that the womb is not conducive for the fertilized egg to latch on and grow. Does this then constitute abortion?

Recently Pope Francis came out and asked priests to forgive women who have had an abortion rather than condemning them to ex-communication. This is a clear sign of the way the future generations will handle such issues.

I wrote this article to bring the issue of abortion closer to home. Would you judge your sister if she had an abortion? Would you judge your girlfriend? Wife? African culture still frowns on abortion and coupled with the adoption of Christianity it is not strange that abortion is looked down upon in most of Africa.

I believe that a time is coming when we will have to rethink these options. Many Africans do not have an abortion because they lack a way to bring up the child but because of shame and what the society does and says in response to single mothers. Many marriages still happen because couples believe they should have a child born after marriage and not before- like it even matters in the eyes of God.

Let’s all consider the different reasons why people go through abortion and like any other issue, let those who have an opinion speak; but more importantly think about the many women who have lost their lives trying to abort a child at home using crude methods. Is there a lesser evil?

Vera has a Masters in Global Policy Studies and has completed the RGK Center of Nonprofit Studies Portfolio Program. She completed her undergraduate studies in International Studies at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Vera is passionate about Africa and hopes to work there someday.

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