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HomelawExamining the prolonged struggle for abortion rights in Uganda

Examining the prolonged struggle for abortion rights in Uganda

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By Mwiine Andrew Kaggwa

The issue of abortion rights in Uganda remains a sticky subject, with the law remaining watertight on the matter. The question, therefore, is whether the recognition of abortion rights is long overdue.

According to E Prada et al’s 2013 article on instances of induced abortion in Uganda, there are more than 30,000 abortions in the country every year.

This has also considerably put the country’s maternal mortality rate at a high of around 438 per 100,000 live births, this has been recorded by Uganda Bureau of Statistics Health Survey (2012).

It is estimated that unsafe abortions contribute26% of maternal death in Uganda according to the Ministry of Health Report on reduction of maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity in Uganda.


One of the contributing factors to this high number of abortions is that Uganda’s abortion laws and policies are confusing and, in the same cases contradictory.

Because of this, most health service providers, law enforcement officers, judges and women and girls do not know the parameters of the law and policies.

Most think that abortion is illegal without expectation and some think there is one exception when a medical practitioner carries out a surgical operation to save the life of the mother.

Under Section 224 of the Penal Code Act, any person who in good faith and with reasonable care and skill performs a surgical operation upon an unborn for the preservation of the mother’s life is not criminally responsible.

The performance of the operation must, however, be reasonable regarding the patient’s state at the time and all the circumstances of the case. With little or no access to legal abortion, many women who want to terminate a pregnancy must resort to unsafe abortion.


Now, besides acute haemorrhage, post “unsafe” abortion complications can include septic shock, perforated bladder or bowel, and a possible ectopic pregnancy- all conditions which, if not promptly diagonized can lead to high mortality. All this should be blamed on the fact that women stealthily terminate pregnancies and end up on the wrong side if it does not go well.


It should be resounded that every individual has a fundamental right to reproductive freedom, which entails the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management and infertility care.

An individual’s right to reproductive freedom shall not be denied, burdened, nor infringed upon unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means; this is according to the State Constitution of Michigan, USA of 1963


The above law in Michigan State, has reduced the rate of maternal mortality by 73% in this State, including is effects that gradually harm the health of young girls and women at large. The question that is very loud right now is “Is Uganda not delaying abortion rights” and the answer is in your own way perceived based on the statistics given above.


In the words of Dr. Mulumba Moses, the Executive Director of Afya Na Haki (Ahaki) in “Facing Uganda’s Law on Abortion”, 2016 he said in the foreword that ‘It is unfortunate that no effort has been made to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Article 22 (2) of the Constitution to create a law that provided specific instances in which an abortion is permitted.”

Despite the significant progress in the policies that relate to access to safe abortion services, the law has barely moved an inch since the Constitution of Uganda came into force.


To be more specific, Article 22 of the Constitution states: Right to Life
No person shall be deprived of life intentionally except in execution of a sentence passed in a fair trial by a court of competent jurisdiction in respect of a criminal offence under the laws of Uganda and the conviction and sentence have been confirmed by the highest appellate court.


No person has the right to terminate the life of an unborn child except as may be authorized by law.
The law is at war with other schools of thought, including but not limited to culture and religion.

But we need to apply reasonableness to this as we make our minds up on whether it is time for Uganda to follow the same trajectory as countries like Zambia, Cape Verde, South Africa and Tunisia, which have liberalized abortion on grounds of health, socioeconomic reasons but some with gestation limits.


In conclusion, we can no longer hide. Abortion is happening and will continue to happen. It is, therefore, prudent that we examine the issue of abortion rights in Uganda, drawing from the challenges of unsafe abortions discussed above.
My next episode of “An Elite Mind” will touch on the Legal vs. Religious Connotations attached to Abortion.

Mwiine Andrew Kaggwa is a 3rd-year law student at Nkumba University.

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