Women are dying from backstreet abortions. But reforms to Malawi's 157-year-old laws are stuck

Updated 5:01 AM ET, Wed September 26, 2018

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Blantyre, Malawi David Minyatso holds the voter registration card of his late wife, Selina.
The last time he saw her, she had just found out she was pregnant with their fourth child.
"She told me she was feeling symptoms of pregnancy. She left for her home village two days later to visit her parents," 36-year-old Minyatso said, standing in the doorway of their thatched-roof home in Kaseleka village, his daughters playing in the dirt yard outside.
"I was later told that she went to a traditional healer to seek abortion-induced drugs which killed her."
Selina Black is among hundreds of women who die every year in Malawi as a result of the government's restrictive abortion law, which only permits the procedure in cases where the woman's life is at risk. Obtaining an abortion for any other reason is punishable by seven to 14 years in prison; while people supplying drugs or instruments to procure abortion can face three years in jail.
In Malawi, home to one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, unsafe abortion is estimated to account for 6%-18% of all maternal deaths, according to research conducted by Guttmacher Institute, a US-based reproductive rights think tank, and the Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Malawi College of Medicine.
Entrance to maternity ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre.
But a draft "Termination of Pregnancy" bill is seeking to loosen the country's 157-year-old law. If approved, the bill would allow an abortion when the pregnancy threatens the physical or mental health of the woman, fetal abnormalities affect the life of the baby, or in cases of rape, incest and defilement.
    The bill, which is currently being scrutinized by Cabinet ministers before it moves to Parliament for debate, has faced strong resistance from influential religious bodies in the country. About 81% of Malawi's population is Christian, according to a 2014 national survey.
    In the three years that have passed since the draft bill was first introduced thousands more women have resorted to risky clandestine abortions -- 141,000 in 2015 alone, accordi