Originally published in World.
Thousands of protesters across religious groups in Malawi took to the streets this week in solidarity against a proposed easing of the country’s abortion regulations.
The Catholic Episcopal Conference of Malawi and Evangelical Association of Malawi organized the protests after learning the government planned to debate a Termination of Pregnancy Bill.
The legislation seeks to legalize abortion in cases where women face sexual assaults or when the unborn child has a severe disability. Malawi’s current abortion law only allows mothers whose lives are endangered to undergo abortion.
In Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, more than 20 000 Christians, Muslims, and members of the Rastafarian sect marched to the parliament holding signs, including one that read, “A nation that kills its children is a nation without hope.” Protesters also gathered in three other main cities across the country.
“We cannot install a culture of death in our country,” protester Tarciciu Mbewe told Malawi’s Nyasa Times.
Malison Ndau, Malawi’s minister of information and communications, said the bill is not up for debate in Parliament. He said a commission reviewed the existing law and only made recommendations to the government.
“It is the prerogative of the Cabinet to adopt or reject any recommendations originating from the Law Commission,” Ndau said in a statement.
But the recommendations already pose a threat to the value of life, the pro-life groups argued. Malawi Council of Churches, an umbrella organization of 25 churches, has changed its stance to support the proposed amendment, which it says will help control maternal mortality.
Malawi’s Ministry of Health estimates more than 70 000 women seek illegal abortions each year, with about 31 000 cases resulting in complications and death. But data from the Global Burden of Diseases by the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations, counters that Malawi faces fewer than 3 000 deaths each year from abortion complications.
Rev. Henry Saindi, secretary general of the Episcopal Council of Malawi, told me the council condemns rape and other forms of abuse and encourages member churches to offer counsel to victims. But the way a child is conceived does not detract from the sanctity of life, he said.
“What we are saying is whatever the case, when life begins at conception it remains a precious gift from God and must be protected,” Saindi said.