As the latest bill seeking to ease access to abortion reached the Kenyan parliament’s upper house, Catholic bishops reminded MPs that the Church’s teaching on the practice has never changed.
The bishops have written a letter to all Catholic MPs warning them of the implications of the bill before the Senate. According to the bishops the Reproductive Healthcare Bill, 2019, promotes a foreign agenda.
Purporting to prevent unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortion, the true agenda behind the bill – the bishops said in their 23 June letter – is to fall in line with measures that guarantee all citizens access to affordable contraception, comprehensive sex education in schools and access to “safe abortion services”.
Part Five of the bill, entitled “Termination of pregnancy”, states: “A pregnancy may be terminated by a trained health professional where, in [that person’s] opinion, there is need for emergency treatment, the pregnancy would endanger the life or health of the mother or there is a substantial risk that the foetus would suffer from a severe physical or mental abnormality that is incompatible with life outside the womb.”
The health professional is to offer “non-directive counselling before and after the termination of the pregnancy”.
A professional with a conscientious objection to abortion must refer the pregnant woman to a professional with no such objection. Failure to do so risks a three-year prison term and a fine of one million shillings (£7,600).
In the hard-hitting letter, Bishop Philip Anyolo, the chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the proposed legislation went against the teaching of the Gospel, the country’s constitution, and the right to life of children and the family.
“We cannot remain silent on issues that concern life. We are called by our faith and our African cultural background to protect the life of the unborn,” said Anyolo. “The life of the unborn is human life and its termination is homicide.”
The bishops said the bill’s wording is deliberately ambiguous, speaking of sexual and reproductive health and rights, which were code for abortion.
“In the past decades, the words have been redefined by various UN agencies to encompass controversial sexual and abortion rights, including for young children,” Anyolo pointed out. Moreover, “it is sexual rights activists who are implementing sexuality programmes for children who will determine the definition of ‘age appropriate’ [education], not the policymakers who [mistakenly] believe that the use of the term will protect children,” the bishops cautioned in their 23 June letter.
The Kenyan constitution currently permits abortion when a woman’s life or health is in danger and emergency treatment is necessary, but the wording of the current bill broadens the permission. There are high rates of back street abortions and post-birth infanticide in Kenya but the bishops say these tragedies can be addressed by ethical means.
They propose a proactive approach that focuses on how to prevent the pregnancies from happening through “positive means such as mentoring and behaviour change programmes, life skills and human sexuality programmes.”
The programmes, the bishops say, will include a closer attention to social issues that lead to poverty, illness, fornication, to peer pressure and the reluctance of people to address them.