This past week a report was released on abortion in Kenya. It reported an amazingly high number of estimated abortions — 465,000. Compare this with the US, which has a population eight times that of Kenya, and had 784,507 abortions in 2009. I really have no idea how the researchers arrived at this estimate since abortion is illegal in Kenya except to save the life of the mother. There are only a few legal abortions in the country so the vast majority — frequently done by extremely crude methods — are illegal. For the last ten years there have been around 1.3 million births per year so the percentage of pregnancies that terminated in abortion is about 35.7%. This is more than twice as high as in the United States (16.4%).
One obvious reason for this high rate of abortion is that family planning methods are not always available. Two-thirds of those receiving abortions are married and did not properly use family planning methods. Part of the reason for this is that, since around 1990, resources have been going to contain and fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, sometimes at the expense of family planning – both financially and in awareness. Moreover education and information about family planning is scarce. Recently a TV commercial on the use of condoms was pulled from the airwaves after objections from the religious community.
But what is really shocking is that 25.8% of the abortions are botched so that 120,000 women are treated for this in hospitals and clinics per year. It is possible that the actual number of abortions is much higher as this would then account for the large number of women needing care after a botched abortion. Moreover over 2,000 of these women (more than 1.7% of those admitted to hospitals and clinics) die from botched abortions, making this one of the leading causes of maternal death in the country. A high percentage of these botched abortions and deaths involve women under 20 years of age. These 2,000 deaths per year are greater than the number of people killed in the 2008 post-election violence.
There have been calls to legalize abortion – particularly in the cases of rape, incest, and child defilement (the Daily Nation today had a report of a 14 year old girl who had triplets). The religious community is vehemently opposed to this. Moreover, as one writer to the Daily Nation noted, Kenyan hospitals and clinics are already under-staffed, under-funded without adequate beds and medicine, and therefore unable to cope with an additional influx of about half a million abortions per year.
This leads to a philosophical question. The high number of abortions means that more than 2% of all females and perhaps 5% of the women of child bearing age have an abortion in any one year. Clearly over their child bearing years, a high percentage of the women have had one or more abortions. Should a country, then, outlaw something that is so prevalent and deadly? Those who are most opposed to abortion are those most opposed to family planning and sex education, particularly for youth. I would think that both sides could unite on family planning goals which would lead to fewer abortions, complications from abortions, and maternal deaths. I don’t know if this will happen.