Monday, June 11, 2007

Mozambique To End Abortion Ban

MAPUTO (AFP) - Mozambique is set to end its blanket ban on abortion after the government acknowledged that current legislation was endangering the lives of women in one of Africa's most impoverished nations.

The proposed shake-up follows the release of a report by the health ministry which said around 100 pregnant women were dying every year after seeing backstreet abortionists while many more suffered "serious after-effects."

Abortion was first outlawed in the former Portuguese colony in legislation dating back to 1886, a ban reaffirmed in a 1981 law six years after the southeastern African country gained independence.

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According to the health ministry, 30 percent of women admitted to Maputo's main hospital following a backstreet abortion end up dead.

Figures compiled by the UN's World Health Organisation show that some 68,000 women die annually due to unsafe abortions, most in developing countries such as Mozambique -- which is still reeling from a devastating 1976-1992 civil war that claimed up to one million lives.

The influential Catholic Church is firmly against decriminalisation, with the Archbishop of Maputo, Francisco Chimoio, even declaring last month that women who terminate pregnancy can expect to "live their lives in fear of divine punishment."

The admonition has not daunted women's groups.

"We should follow the path that has been taken by Portugal in decriminalising abortion," after a February referendum there, said Graca Sand, who works for the Forum Mulher, a charity for impoverished women.

Abortion still remains taboo in much of Africa where many countries have a blanket ban. Although South Africa does allow termination of pregnancy on demand, it is illegal in Mozambique's other neighbours, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

According to the Mozambican health ministry, 58 percent of women who have had an abortion did so at home, very often without the help of anyone with medical training.

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