The Center wins a major victory for abortion rights in Africa


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In a groundbreaking decision, the High Court of Kenya ruled that the Ministry of Health’s 2014 withdrawal of the “Standards and Guidelines for Reducing Morbidity and Mortality from Unsafe Abortion in Kenya” (Standards and Guidelines), and its subsequent ban on abortion trainings for health care professionals, were arbitrary and unlawful. The Standards and Guidelines was an important policy document that guided health care providers on when and how they could provide safe and legal abortion and post-abortion services.

With this ruling, the five-judge bench has resoundingly reaffirmed the constitutional protections for legal abortions in Kenya when the life and health of the pregnant woman is threatened, including for survivors of sexual violence, or in cases of emergency.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed this case in 2015 on behalf of JMM, an adolescent girl who became pregnant as a result of rape at the age of 14. JMM was unable to access safe abortion or the post-abortion care she needed after seeking out a termination from an unqualified provider. JMM later died from ensuing complications. Unfortunately, the case of JMM is not unique—seven women and girls die from unsafe abortion in Kenya every day.

“No woman or girl should die from the inability to access reproductive health care, including abortion,” said Evelyne Opondo, Senior Regional Director for Africa. “Today’s judgment is a critical step in ensuring that unsafe abortion does not take the lives of any more of our women and girls.”

One of the key, galvanizing aspects of this win is that the Court emphasized the definition of the right to health to include complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.  As such, the Court affirmed that victims of sexual violence in Kenya have the constitutional right to abortion when, in the opinion of a trained health care professional, the continuation of pregnancy poses a risk to this broad definition of health.

The Center’s Senior Legal Advisor Martin Onyango, who argued the case, states, “This is a big and unprecedented win for this country.”