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In Kenya, few choices to backstreet abortions

By David McKenzie, CNN
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Abortion law spotlights horrors
  • Church groups are leading calls in Kenya to ban almost all abortions
  • U.S.-based group says current restrictions already force women to have backstreet abortions
  • Social worker shows CNN dirty slum shacks where backstreet abortions are carried out
  • Those fighting for more restrictions say Kenya should provide safety nets, not abortion services

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- Women are being forced into backstreet abortions in Kenya because of the country's restrictive abortion law, a study says.

And the law could soon get even tougher with church groups urging a ban on almost all abortions.

The U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Health, which advocates abortions rights, found that women and girls in Kenya use metal wires, knitting needles and other unsafe practices to abort tens of thousands of unwanted pregnancies.

Beatrice was 14 when she died after an illegal abortion last year, and left a hole in her mother's heart.

Her mother, Nancy Wanjiku, said that after the girl's father died from AIDS, Beatrice secretly became a child prostitute to help feed the family.

Too afraid to tell her mother when she became pregnant, Beatrice didn't ask for help or go to a hospital -- she went to a backstreet abortionist.

Nancy Wanjiku said: "After having the abortion she contracted an infection in her private parts and she got wounds. She stayed without telling me her condition. Three days before she died is when she told me how she's feeling. I looked at her and saw that she had wounds. I cleaned the wounds. I didn't have the money to take her to hospital, so I was washing her with Dettol."

She added: "Many children have died leaving parents behind and even many parents have died and left their children orphaned because of abortion."

Social worker Emmaculate Musya said Beatrice's story is common in Kenya, and the U.S. group's study backs her up.

Musya said fetuses are dumped in the sprawling Kibera slum. She said that every week they find aborted fetuses in one garbage-filled stream. They wash away or get eaten by pigs, she said.

The report says that Kenya's current confusing abortion law forces women to the backstreets.

So in Kibera, where shacks are packed together on a warren of garbage strewn streets, they search out abortionists.

Now church groups in Kenya are pushing for the new constitution, coming up for a parliamentary vote soon, to make almost all abortions illegal. The church groups want to define 'life as starting at conception,' and heavily restrict abortion except for cases where a mother's life is in immediate danger.

The National Council of Churches in Kenya says society should provide safety nets, not abortion services.

Oliver Kisaka, from the National Council of Churches in Kenya, said: "The women are not the weakest in the equation, the unborn child is. The unborn child is the weakest in that equation. The churches are not against the women.

"Why do women in this country, or elsewhere, want to go ahead and get pregnant and then procure abortions? Why are we not realizing that the way you can avoid going through the whole problem of abortion by just not getting pregnant?"

Kisaka added: "A doctor who kills an unborn child knowingly is a very dangerous doctor anywhere in the world. The doctor should go to jail if found guilty of that practice. It is not necessary."

In 2004, Gynecologist Dr. John Nyamu was at the center of a murder case and a national outcry.

Watchmen found 15 fetuses in trash bags under a Nairobi bridge and documents from his clinic were found in the bags. He was charged with murder but acquitted of any wrongdoing.

He said: "The lawmakers are going to use this clause to ban abortion completely and they are also going to use this clause to ban the provision of emergency contraception which people feel may be causing abortion.

"It is going to reduce the acceptance of family planning services... Most of the mothers are going to go to the backstreets and have illegal abortions."

Social workers say that women often don't have choices and that in a country where one-third of maternal deaths are caused by abortions, they say stricter laws will only force women to make choices that could kill them.