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Examining How Issue Of Abortion Portrayed In Kenyan Constitution

In an opinion piece in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog, David Olson, a global health communications consultant who worked as a communications adviser to the Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance in Kenya earlier this year, describes how “abortion rights [in the country] have been liberalized in certain cases in a Constitution approved in a public referendum two years ago.” He continues, “The new constitution says clearly that ‘the life of a person begins at conception’ and ‘abortion is not permitted unless…'” Olson writes, “And that innocuous ‘unless’ is what keeps the abortion issue alive in Kenya, almost two years after the constitutional referendum: ‘…unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.'”

Olson says “[a]bortion opponents say that those loopholes are tantamount to making abortion available ‘on demand,'” while “[a]bortion-rights advocates say it’s not abortion on demand at all, and that these reasonable exemptions will save the lives of thousands of Kenyan girls and women who would otherwise be exposed to dangerous, back street abortions.” He notes Kenya’s high maternal mortality rate, saying “[u]nsafe abortions account for anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of those deaths,” and he adds that “60 percent of costs incurred by public hospitals go to treating probable unsafe abortions.” With presidential elections scheduled for early 2013, “no one really knows how the outcome of that will affect the abortion issue,” he writes, adding, “Parliament is expected to enact legislation to implement the intent of the Constitution.” Olson concludes, “One thing is clear: The 2010 Constitution is here to stay and unlikely to be changed. So the Kenyan people — including those who support and oppose abortion — are going to have to find a way to live with it” (10/17).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.