Zimbabwean government has been asked to amend the Termination of Pregnancy Act so abortion can become every woman's option.
Jimmy Wilford, Saywhat executive director, said abortion was a reality that Zimbabwe has to face.
"If you talk to doctors in confidence, they will tell you backyard abortions are a reality," Wilford said at a law reform meeting last week.
"Even official statistics show that abortions are happening all the time. Unfortunately, these are mostly unsafe and have repercussions. This could be one reason why our maternal mortality rates are high."
Unicef estimates that 70,000 illegal abortions take place in Zimbabwe every year.
Wilford said girls and women should be allowed the option to choose whether to keep or abort any pregnancy.
"The ministry of Health actually introduced post-abortion care. If you look closely, it is about taking care of those youths aborting in the backyard. What we need to do now is to accept and give them safe options. Even if we do not allow it, those who are doing it backyard are always coming back into the system for corrective therapy and are chewing a lot of tax-payers' money. We should rather keep the principle and relax the policy. In South Africa, for example, they still have a lot of young mothers despite the fact that abortion is allowed."
Sarudzai Njerere, a partner at Honey and Blackenberg, said the reproductive system of Zimbabwean women is currently being treated like State property.
"Do we want children raising other children, because unwanted pregnancies are a fact? Are women uteruses publicly-listed entities? But the State thinks it does own them. It is said that although the Act has been amended six times, it was only to deal with penalties," she said.
Geoff Feltoe, a law professor, said the Act is a pre-independence law which provides for a very limited scope for termination of pregnancy in the modern world.
Sara Moyo, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) board chairperson, while concurring on the need to extend the Act, admitted that abortion is a controversial subject in Zimbabwe.
"The issue happens to be an emotional one, touching at the core of our values but given what is happening on the ground, some of the cases we relate to, we need to relax the law," she said.
Moyo expressed concern over several procedural barriers experienced by rape victims in seeking the legal right to terminate pregnancies from such occurrences.
She suggested that the Zimbabwe Republic Police rape desk should operate 24 hours while government needs to make services available everywhere.
"Sexual violence does not occur during working hours only. It happens round the clock and victims should enjoy their legal right to terminate and not be forced to conceive a child of a rapist," she said in apparent reference to Mildred Mapingure's case.
"Also, there are victims who may prefer and can afford to go the private route, but there are no known private sector institutions doing that at the moment."
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