Abortion laws: Kenya, S Korea march ahead, some others fall behind

Kenya and S Korea are journeying surely towards completely legalising abortion


The High Court of Kenya at Nairobi legalised abortion for victims of rape and sexual violence on June 12. The judgement was the result of a four-year-long case filed by the mother of JMM (name changed), who died after failing to receive proper post-abortion care. In 2014, JMM was the victim of rape which resulted in her pregnancy. Due to the ban on abortion, she had to look for alternate methods for terminating her pregnancy. She ended up having severe injuries and complications from her backstreet abortion and died in 2018. Her mother, represented by the Centre for Reproductive Rights, filed a petition claiming that authorities failed to provide safe post abortion care to her daughter and urged the authorities to grant access to safe abortion options.

Kenya and South Korea are journeying slowly but surely towards completely legalising abortions, some countries have taken a step in the opposite direction. The state of Alabama in the US is a prime example. The governor of Alabama signed a near-total ban on abortion, allowing it only if the life of the mother and the foetus is in danger. Missouri, Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana have also moved in this direction passing 'heartbeat bills' that cancel out the option for an abortion as soon as a heartbeat is detected. However, one of the Democrats’ presidential candidates, Kamala Harris has stated that if voted into power, she would back legislation that would require states to seek permission from the Justice department before passing restrictive abortion laws.

This April, women in South Korea also rejoiced after the top court decriminalised abortions. The law here was one of the most restrictive in the world, only allowing termination of pregnancies if they were a result of rape, incest or if the woman’s health was in danger. Women also had to get consent from their husbands before carrying through with the abortion. On April 11, the court declared that the current laws governing abortion were incompatible with the constitution.

Surprisingly the Alabama law created mass public debate on the Chinese Twitter-like social media platform, Weibo. This kind of reaction can be seen as a culmination of different policies pursued by the Chinese government since the 1940s. The 1980s saw a rise in abortions as China pursued ‘one-child policy’ and women had no option but to abort the second child. However, even after the dissolution of the one-child policy in 2015, the number of abortions has not changed much, staying well above 9 million.

Northern Ireland reported, a spike of 22% in the number of women traveling to the UK for abortions. The 1967 Abortion Act that allows abortions up to 24 weeks into pregnancy in the UK is not applicable in Northern Ireland compelling women here to travel and seek abortions in the UK.

In India, abortion is legal and is governed by the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTPA). India falls under category code 7E of World Abortion Policies (2013) report of the UN. The countries that fall under category code 7E, allow abortions to save a woman’s life, to preserve woman’s physical health, to preserve a woman’s mental health, in case of rape or incest, because of foetal impairment and for economic or social reasons. These countries do not however allow abortions on request after a set time period, which, in India is 20 weeks. Although according to The MTPA, the consent of the husband is not required for terminating a pregnancy, many women in rural areas mistakenly believe that their husband have a role in the decision making process. In case of a minor seeking abortion, the consent of her husband or her father is required.

A study conducted in 2017 by Lancet Global Health estimated 15.6 million abortions in 2015 in India. Its findings showed that most induced abortions were conducted by private sector instead of government facilities, only 5% of induced abortions occurred in public health facilities. This is a worrisome number as government hospitals are the primary source for healthcare for poor and rural women. Women are also resorting to unsafe and non-medical methods for abortion due to the lack of awareness and the stigma attached to it.