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By: Justicia Shipena

The justice ministry has called for a referendum to put the abortion debate to rest.

The call was made by the ministry’s chief legal officer, Christian Harris, during the second day of the public hearing on legalising abortion.

The public hearing was held by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs in Windhoek.

“Although there is no law on referendum, we argue that a referendum on this issue can also be organised. That is, if a law on the referendum is passed.

“With a referendum, we can gauge and put this debate to rest. Without us engaging the true feelings of Namibians via the ballot, it will be difficult, and this debate will continue forever,” said Harris.

Harris added that Namibia needs a specific law on the referendum on contentious issues.

“As long as that law is absent, it will be a challenge to gauge the views of citizens via referendum,” he said.

He further stated because Namibia has signed various international instruments, such as the Maputo Protocol, which it adheres to, which has made matters regarding abortion challenge.

The Maputo Protocol is an international human rights instrument established by the African Union that went into effect in 2005.

“If Maputo Protocol allows for abortion and Namibia did not have any reservations on the right to abortion, then by implication it means people can always claim for that right because under article 144 of the Namibian constitution, all international treaties that Namibia signed and agreed to become part of our law,” he said.

Harris stated that this is a challenge the government is facing.

“We haven’t made reservations on seven out of nine core key international human rights instruments. And it can be argued that the government agrees by implication the right to abort,” he said.

He said some of the challenges that might face Namibia should abortion be legalised would be mostly related to society.

“Some people also argued that it carries a political risk.”

Harris also said the ministry proposes for the continuation of consultations between government and citizens.

On the other hand, the ministry of health’s executive director Ben Nangombe said the current law on abortion needs to be updated.

“This is for it speak to prevailing realities, namely access to Sexual and Reproductive health rights, including safe abortion,” said Nangombe.

He said the human right of women to control their fertility and sexuality free of coercion is guaranteed implicitly by the Women’s Convention.

“The right to autonomy in making health decisions in general, and sexual and reproductive decisions in particular, derives from the fundamental human right to liberty,” he said.

Nangombe added that the right to reproductive choice means that women have a right to choose whether or not to reproduce.

“This includes the right to decide whether to carry or terminate an unwanted pregnancy and the right to choose their preferred method of family planning and contraception,” he said.

Nangombe said there seems to be a consensus that the existing law fits the criteria put in place by the Law Reform and Development Commission.

“This no longer serves an objective for which it was promulgated.”

Nangombe stated that the current legislation on abortion is outdated.

“There is a need to have a holistic approach in the enactment and drafting of the new Draft Bill,” he said.

He concluded that abortion could not be looked at in isolation.

“We have to take into account the rights to Sexual and Reproductive Health, the safety of women and the impact of unsafe abortions on public health, including the use of long-acting contraceptives,” he concluded.

According to the health ministry, the contribution of unsafe abortion to maternal deaths in Namibia is not fully known.

However, two surveys indicate a contribution of unsafe abortions ranging from 12% to 16%.

In 2006, the Ministry of Health and Social Services assessment showed that 20% of obstetric complications were attributed to abortions.

According to the World Health Organization, about 25% of all pregnancies ended in abortion, legally or illegally, between 2010 and 2014.

A study by the Guttmacher Institute indicates that about 121 million unplanned pregnancies occurred each year between 2015 and 2019.

Of the 121 million unplanned pregnancies, about 61% of all unplanned pregnancies end in abortion.

Justicia Shipena

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