In Kenya, abortion is allowed only when the life and health of the mother is at risk or in when a trained medical professional believes the situation to be an emergency. Due to intense stigma and shame surrounding abortion, women are forced to seek clandestine care from untrained health providers. Approximately a quarter of the estimated 465,000 illegal abortions that women seek out in Kenya each year result in severe complications and hospitalizations. Thousands of women and girls are injured for life—or do not survive. Our client, Wanjiku, not her real name, was one of these girls.
In the Kenyan context, Wanjiku is symbolic of an ordinary person—any woman, every woman—and in a country where more than 30 percent of girls under 18 experience sexual violence and more than 40 percent of pregnancies are unintentional, Wanjiku’s story represents the stories of hundreds of thousands just like her.
When she was just 14, Wanjiku was coerced into a sexual relationship with an older man in her village and later discovered that she was pregnant. Abortion is stigmatized in Kenya due to conservative religious beliefs, and Wanjiku found herself in a desperate situation with no way out.
Like many other women and girls who find themselves in this position, Wanjiku sought abortion care from an unqualified provider. She became ill almost immediately after the procedure and required immediate medical attention. Instead, she had to visit multiple hospitals that could not provide the necessary services. When she finally did find a qualified facility, she was neglected, abused, and forced to sleep on a mattress on the dirty hospital floor during her stay.
In 2015, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a petition to hold the government accountable for this gross injustice. The petition challenges the lack of guidelines on abortion that can guide health care providers in cases such as Wanjiku’s. The petition further challenges the government’s directive banning health providers from participating in any abortion training thus limiting their ability to respond in cases where abortion is necessary of where post abortion care is required. By withdrawing the Standards and Guidelines for reducing morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions in Kenya, prohibiting trainings on safe abortion care, and banning medabon, a safe and effective method of medication abortion, the Kenyan government stole Wanjiku’s life.
The Center has been fighting for Wanjiku and her mother for almost four years now, and over that time, Wanjiku suffered from a slew of severe health complications that could have been prevented had she received timely care after the botched procedure. Ultimately, this delay in care led to her premature death last year.
This story is all too common in Kenya, and the Center for Reproductive Rights will not stop fighting until Wanjiku, her mother, and countless families like theirs receive justice for the flagrant human rights violations that they have suffered.
In December 2018, the Center had the last hearing and submissions in the case. It is currently pending judgment on notice from the judges.