LEGAL practitioners and health advocates have called for a review of the Termination of Pregnancies Act promulgated in 1977.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
This emerged at a Right Here Right Now workshop for editors in Harare on Monday.
They observed that the legislative piece has many loopholes making it difficult to deal with the contentious matter.
At a time when the majority believe that abortion is illegal, advocates and legal experts maintain that it is lawful though legally restrictive.
Regional Prosecutor from the National Prosecuting Authority Mrs Kudzai Chigwedere said they recorded 22 cases last year on the termination pregnancies.
“So I will initially share with you these statistics on termination of pregnancies. These are for the Harare Magistrate’s Courts. Unfortunately I have not been able to get the national statistics but Harare being the largest regional court as opposed to some of our stations having two or three regional courts.
“And the statistics we are talking about, these are the cases we have made a proper application for termination of pregnancies. These are the cases brought to our attention and those we made applications before a court. So in the year 2018 a total of 22 cases were received and 13 applications were made. Nine did not qualify for application and the reasons for not qualifying were that in five of the cases the survivors presented late and the other four refused to have the termination. So when a survivor approaches our office it’s not mandatory that we make an application. We enquire whether they want it or not they want to have a termination done. An average of one application a month were made. I think that will tell us exactly what is happening.
“In the year 2019, between January and June a total of 13 applications have been made. Out of the 13, 12 have been granted and one was declined. A total of 22 cases were abuse related pregnancies have been received to date that is one was declined, 12 were granted. Out of the 12 one was granted on medical grounds and four complainants refused to terminate and four of the survivors presented late.
“So basically those are the cases of the cases that we have dealt with between 2018 and 2019. So the comparison of 2018 and 2019, in 2018 we had an average of one application per month, and so far in 2019 we have seen an improvement of two applications per month which translates to a 100 percent improvement,” she said.
On the challenges, she listed a plethora of them. She said there is no clear definition on unlawful intercourse.
Mrs Chigwedere added that at times there is conflict of interest between the survivor and her guardians, the survivor and her culture, as well as the survivor against her spouse or boyfriend.
With these challenges making it difficult for them to process the cases into applications, Mrs Chigwedere noted with concern how the law in Zimbabwe only allows termination pregnancies on condition of medical grounds, the health risk to the survivor as well as cases of rape or incest.
Mrs Chigwedere also said they are also burdened with false cases where guardians or even the survivors just want to terminate pregnancies in ways above the law.
RHRN National Coordinator Tendaishe Changamire highlighted the need for this legislative piece to be looked into.
“The Guttmacher Institute study of 2016 notes that there are about 67 000 unsafe abortions that happen every year. There are lot of complications around unsafe abortions. Women can develop health complications like the fistula. Some of the complications can be fatal. Unsafe abortions have contributed towards maternal mortality in Zimbabwe. And from that I think that is the basis on why the termination of pregnancy act should be reviewed,” she said.
She mentioned the experiences survivors go through to get their hands on medical certificates.
“And also what it is currently is that it gives three conditions on why women should access it. There are challenges to the women who want to access it through the law. So in terms of conditions, one is when it’s a health risk.
“A woman has to seek two medical letters and that alone is a barrier looking at women who don’t have access to health institutions or the user fees or the costs related to getting this. From this position, we are asking for it to be reviewed in a way that it presents the conditions but also the act should be implemented,” she said.