Established in 1995 by Kenyan health professionals, Reproductive Health Services (RHS) is a clinical service provider that also advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights and provides training on comprehensive abortion care services.
RHS’s expertise and services are in critical need in Kenya, where unsafe abortion is the cause of 35 percent of maternal deaths. A 2012 national study found there are 465,000 induced abortions every year, most of which are clandestine and unsafe.
In 2010, Kenya adopted a new constitution guaranteeing a broad range of political and social rights, including the right to reproductive health care. The new constitution allows abortion in cases where a health professional determines that a woman’s life or health is in danger. Despite these important victories for women’s rights and health in Kenya, the public remains largely unaware of these changes, and women are still dying at an alarming rate as a result of complications from unsafe abortion.
In 2004, RHS Executive Director Dr. John Nyamu and two RHS nurses, Marion Kibathi and Mercy Mathai, were accused of performing illegal abortions and imprisoned for a year before they were finally acquitted due to a lack of evidence.
In an interview, Dr. Nyamu said of his ordeal: “It was horrible, but it was worth the sacrifice… My arrest and imprisonment was in the media virtually every day. The publicity was an opening for people to realize the magnitude and consequences of unsafe abortion in Kenya; women were dying in great numbers. Before that, abortion was never spoken of in public.”
“My arrest, imprisonment and [the resulting] publicity generated a public awareness that led to a transformation in the understanding that safe abortion is essential to preventing maternal morbidity and mortality.”
The attention and publicity surrounding the Nyamu case led to the formation of the Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance (RHRA), a coalition that includes the medical community and women’s rights and human rights groups. RHRA works to reduce unsafe abortion in Kenya through advocacy and technical support to abortion providers.