Zim abortions kills 20 000 women every year - report
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Abortion is illegal in Zimbabwe, and the NGOs â€“ which include Musasa Projects and Action Aid â€“ are demanding law reforms to "allow access to safe abortive measures".
"The restrictive criteria for legal abortions and the continued criminalisation of abortion pushes women into unsafe abortions and early deaths," the NGOs said in a report to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee.
The NGOs are also lobbying the Zimbabwe government to provide free health care to all pregnant mothers.
Lindile Ndebele, the Musasa Projects' regional director for Bulawayo, said: "Many women are dying out there from complications arising following backyard abortions.
"Rape victims end up giving birth to unwanted babies because of the cumbersome process to have the abortion sanctioned.
"They are left to deal with the trauma of rape and live to see the products of rape grow in their wombs."
According to the 2007 Zimbabwe Maternal And Perinatal Mortality Survey, 26,000 to 84,000 women suffer from disabilities caused by complications during pregnancy and child-birth each year.
Ndebele said their findings showed 20,000 women were dying every year due to pregnancy complications, including from illegal abortion.
Health Minister Henry Madzorera said he could not "qualify" the statistics being used by the NGOs of deaths resulting from pregnancy complications, but then launched a defence of the current legislation.
"The fact that abortion is illegal means it is not a right for women to abort," he said.
A new draft constitution is set to be published within days, but abortion is set to remain illegal.
The NGOs warned: "According to section 4 of the Termination of Pregnancy Act, abortion is legal only when the life of the mother and her physical health is endangered by the continuation of the pregnancy; where there is serious risk that the child to be born will suffer from physical or mental defects of such a nature that it will be permanently or seriously be handicapped and where there is reasonable possibility that the foetus conceived is as a result of unlawful intercourse.
"But, even in such circumstances where the law provides for legal abortion, the process and legal procedures are lengthy, and often results in traumatic experiences for women."
The NGOs cited the case of Mildred Mapingure who was raped in the course of a robbery in 2007. She was forced to give birth because of delays in procuring a legal abortion. By the time she received authorisation, it was medically dangerous to terminate the pregnancy.
The report said: "Due to the restrictive nature of abortion laws, there is a high prevalence of illegal abortions taking place in the country.
"There is need to decriminalise abortion to allow access to safe abortive measures thus reducing the number of women conducting illegal abortions."
Last month, Finance Minister Tendai Biti revealed that donors had pledged US$500 million to make health care free for pregnant mothers, but the scheme is yet to start.
Biti said: "The statistics are that 790 out of 100,000 mothers are dying [at birth] and that's genocide."
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