As the US Supreme Court prepares to overturn a ruling that made abortion legal in that country, local pro-abortion activists worry that the move could impact Namibia’s own push to legalise abortion.
In October last year, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs held public hearings with various individuals in Windhoek regarding abortion on demand.
Activist Ndiilokelwa Nthengwe told The Villager there is a concern that the US decision on abortion could affect Namibia’s fixed point on abortion.
However, she said there is not much on that pointing to the Global South, the term denoting regions outside Europe and North America.
“Right now, it’s just a leaked draft. We will wait until June-July for the final judgement. There’s a high chance it might, but we don’t know yet,” she said.
Touching on the issue of the referendum, Nthengwe said a referendum on a fundamental human right would obscure and override all of our country’s efforts to protect the sanctity of rights in the constitution.
“It will not solve it in a fair manner. It will dissolve our rights in an unjust manner.”
Human rights activist Linda Baumann says local anti-abortion advocates would use the USA decision on abortion to paint it as bad. According to her, the anti-abortion activists would use it as a sway.
“Yes, the anti-abortion group will use this particular framework and reality in the United States as a promotional line to say how bad abortion is,” said Baumann.
She added that one would have to know how the politics of the USA work. She further said that not all USA states have made the resolution on abortion.
“If we bring it back home, it is now in the spotlight. All countries look upon the USA as an example and case study.”
However, she said one must also respect the autonomy of each country.
“Namibia is a country of its own with its laws and social environment,” she added.
Baumann told The Villager that the premise of the conversation around abortion in Namibia had created division around bodily autonomy and integrity.
She further said with the USA Supreme Court wanting to overrule the rights of abortion, it would be an ideal weight for Namibia to study how the legal framework got to vote to repeal a right to abortion in the USA.
“But to also study what does that means for us.”
Additionally, she said that although public hearings are taking place, the time has come now for Namibian women who had an abortion to speak out.
“The current debate must also get men to speak because there are a lot of men who impregnated women and never want to be part of that life. What does that say about the whole reproductive process? This abortion does not only affect women. It affects the men also who are part of the process,” Baumann explains.
She added that not enough discussions get men to speak about this topic when they have impregnated women.
“This is when they don’t want the baby. Whose problem does it become? I think we need to flip the coin to interrogate that and strengthen the decisions and regulations we intend to put out in this country,” she said.
VOTING ON REFERENDUM
During the public hearings last year, the justice ministry 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.
According to Baumann, one needs to understand what a referendum is.
“I think many Namibians need to get educated on what a referendum means. When we put a referendum forth, we put a space that allows discussions and swings to the majority, not decent to the key critical issues.”
Baumann said Namibia still needs to have a proper discussion and understanding because there are systems that influence the call for a referendum.
“The issues of culture and tradition also play a role as that is where Namibia swings itself. For me, that referendum issue is that I would like to see an accurate report from the public hearings to get an analysis of what the outcomes are before we even talk about a referendum,” she expressed.
Furthermore, she added that the public hearings are taking place to assess what Namibians think.
“I would rather put the referendum on one side and wait for the report that comes from the public hearings to be able to hear what the outcomes are and what the proposed recommendations would be for us to take the next step.”
PRO-LIFE NOT WORRIED
Meanwhile, the secretary-general of the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN), Ludwig Beukes, says that he is not worried about the decision in the USA.
“Namibia has already rectified the Maputo protocol from the African Union (AU),” he said.
Beukes said the consultations and pubic hearings Namibia is having are useless.
“Already the country has committed itself, and they signed the Maputo protocol in terms of abortion.”
The Maputo Protocol is an international human rights instrument established by the African Union that went into effect in 2005.
He stated that a referendum would be fair to solve the debate.
“I think if there is a referendum, the nation would speak for itself, which we were also requesting. There are different views, and if we make a referendum, it will help us say what we want and then it would be one or two people deciding on behalf of the nation,” he emphasises.
Beukes emphasised that the church’s stance still stands to protect life, adding that they don’t support abortion on demand.
“Whether it is born or unborn. We are very clear that we support life. We will still support the existing laws but not support abortion on demand.”