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Kenya’s Criminal Ban on Abortion Hasn’t Stopped Women from Having Abortions, It’s Only Made Them More Dangerous, Says New CRR Report

Analysis Comes As Government Considers Further Restricting Abortion in Constitution

(PRESS RELEASE) Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights released the first comprehensive human rights report on abortion in Anglophone Africa documenting the devastating effects of the criminalization of abortion in Kenya. In Harm’s Way: The Impact of Kenya’s Restrictive Abortion Law found that the country’s law does not prevent women from having abortions. Instead, it severely undermines the quality of care women receive or forces them to resort to unsafe and clandestine means to terminate unwanted pregnancy. 

“Kenya’s criminal ban on abortion bleeds through every area of the country’s reproductive healthcare system,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Women can’t get abortion services, including post-abortion care, when it’s legal. When they do, the quality of care is substandard at its best, deadly at its worst.  And medical providers who do offer legal abortion services are either harassed or turn corrupt and mistreat their patients.”

Kenya already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Under the law, women and doctors face imprisonment. Abortion is permitted for the “preservation of life” but that language is not clearly defined. There have been varied interpretations within the government and medical communities which allow for abortion in cases of rape and health, but the lack of uniformity means misinformation abounds within medical circles and the larger community. As a result, women seeking an abortion must navigate a maze of half-truths as well as personal, financial, and bureaucratic barriers – risking their lives in the process.

The Center’s report is particularly timely as the Kenyan government is currently considering whether to include language in its new constitution that recognizes that “life of a person begins at conception.” The report illustrates how much damage an extremely restrictive abortion law can do. The anti-abortion proposal is directly at odds with international human rights law and fails to recognize Kenyan women as full members of society with equal rights to life, health, equality, dignity and freedom from torture and cruel and inhumane or degrading treatment.

“Our report is a story of unbelievable cruelty. In Kenya, a young woman is barely educated about her sexual and reproductive health. Her odds of becoming a victim of sexual violence and becoming pregnant are remarkably high. But if she gets pregnant, she can’t get an abortion without risking her life,” said Northup.  “It’s time that the Kenyan government at the very least follow its own laws and policies by walking the walk – making sure women have access to the care that is legal and moving towards a future in which women can access safe abortion.”

Northup and Elisa Slattery, the regional manager for the Center’s Africa Program will be in Nairobi, Kenya, starting March 7 and available for interviews. For more information about the report or to arrange interviews please contact Dionne Scott at dscott@reprorights.org or (917) 637-3649.