With the passage of the new constitution in 2010, Kenyan women secured greater access to safe, legal abortion services under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, four years after the law changed, women’s knowledge of the law and their rights hasn’t caught up. Misinformation and stigma prevent them from seeking the procedure at public health facilities, forcing them to resort to unsafe methods such as ingesting chemicals or going under the knife of a quack. Approximately 1,200 women die every year as a result of complications following an unsafe abortion.
The death of one of those women became international news last week, as a Kenya court delivered a death sentence to a nurse, Jackson Namunya Tali, after he was convicted of causing the death of a young woman following complications from a botched abortion in 2009.
In RH Reality Check this week, IWHC President Françoise Girard blogged about the case after speaking with IWHC’s partners in Nairobi, who report that law enforcement is using news of the death sentence to extort and harass heath care workers:
Corrupt police reportedly exploit [confusion surrounding the law] by storming clinics—sometimes in the middle of a procedure—and threatening health-care workers with arrest unless they pay a bribe. Faced with the prospect of spending a weekend in jail before the courts release them for providing a constitutionally protected medical procedure, clinic employees will often pay the extortion instead.
Girard also explains how immediate action by Kenya’s Ministry of Health to release standards and guidelines governing the provision of safe abortion care would go a long way towards clearing public confusion about women’s right to an abortion.