Zebras at a Waterhole in Okaukejo, Etosha Pan, Namibia . PHOTO : J . Rieck

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Arguments for Legalizing Abortions in Namibia - Sowing to the Wind and Reaping the Whirlwind.

On Tuesday the 27th March 2017 just about every major newspaper in Namibia carried the statement of the minister of Health and Social Services, Mr Bernard Haufiku. The largest daily newspaper  “The Namibian“ reported  as follows in its opening paragraph:

“HEALTH minister Bernard Haufiku has called for the revision of the law criminalising abortion in the country after an unprecedented 7 335 illegal cases were recorded at state facilities last year alone. The rest of the article is contained in the footnote.[1]  

As I was reading the ministers’ statement,  it dawned on me yet again what we are up against and what we are lacking in Namibia.  In the first place, we need to understand that our government is completely bewildered by the facts as they present themselves in the statistics. 
We also need to understand that anyone can say anything with statistics. Every discerning citizen knows that. Behind every statistic is in fact a different person and a different circumstance. 
What we need more than anything is the wisdom to deal with the information as it presents itself, information not only at face value, but at a deeper level.  The minister with his  ‘face value’ information can only come to one conclusion on the basis of the superficial evidence. He says ‘decriminalize abortion’.

So too, we must make reference to  Dudley’s cartoon in “The Namibian” newspaper of the  31st March 2017. The message  says,  ‘Legalize Abortion’. The ‘body language’ of the cartoon says it all. An angry feminist fist upon an inverted cross, accompanied by quotes from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, perhaps the most liberal justice in the United States Supreme court! 
The adjacent editorial[2] on the same day and page says, “We can only imagine the minister is treading carefully for fear of a backlash from zealots, who view the issue as nothing but a callous crime committed by pregnant women.” 

We can only imagine who is meant by the zealots, who view the issue as nothing but a callous crime committed by pregnant women.  

Incidentally, the editor who is nameless, knowingly or unknowingly uses a  subversive weapon,   Saul Alinksy’s Rules for Radicals, encouraging the use of ridicule against one’s opponents. Rule five says, “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”[3]

If the editors mean zealots to be representatives from the church community, then we wish them to know that their pointing hand has three fingers pointing back at them! Many newspaper editors, in their zeal for their own causes, see themselves above and beyond contradiction. 
Bad news!

We want  them  to know that many of us, whom  they  call ‘zealots’ have a real  concern for the people and unborn  children  that  get  hurt  in the abortion debacle, and many in our circles  are working  as well as we know how,  to address the real issues  that  lead to abortion, and not simply with the tip of a poison pen.  

So what  we see is that both the minister and the press are seeking to address this problem via the law…. Decriminalize… legalize!  

We want to argue that the problem of abortion can ultimately not be solved via the law and that if we seek  to solve such problems via the law  then we must expect  that the law can deal with the problem only in a superficial way.  The law will leave  many people hurt, squashed and devastated, and worst of all, not really helped!  So, the minister has a point, but this point needs to be thought through much more carefully. In the hands of a  biased  press  such a call can easily  end up in messy hands. 

To get back to the matter at hand :  Making abortion a criminal offence by which the concerned person will simply receive a sentence or a fine may not prove to be the best approach or solution to the matter. The person, having undergone an abortion has far profounder matters to contend with, such as a sense of real guilt and loss. Let’s face it. In abortion a life is taken. There is just no other way to say this. And the conscience will  give  no rest, and if the conscience is suppressed, which is what many people in such situations tend  to do,  then it rears its ugly head in  other ways. Anger, Bitterness  and Cynicism become  typical response patterns of people that  have  suppressed their consciences. Further  down the line the road  may   lead to  soul deadening  alcohol or  drug addictions  and the like.  
We have yet to meet a woman who has had an abortion and  who has been OK with that.  There is no amount of reason or logic that can  erase  the pain  experienced  when making such a choice.  Those who are Pro-choice really do not  think very carefully about  the implications of their choices. Theirs is a short term solution,  and  the misguided counsel given that it is "a woman's right to decide " is really not helping any woman in the long term. 

At the heart of the dilemma is a theological problem which manifests as a social and emotional problem, and the law finds that it  cannot deal with that.
So, what are we saying?   
We are saying that life needs a shepherd more than a prison warden.  Life needs a shepherd, in fact, life needs the Good Shepherd! 
May God restore the church and society  to see this! 
Sadly,  this   superficial reflection by  our governing authorities, together  with  an aversion by a  liberal press to  the life affirming  morality,   inspired by the teachings of the Judeo –Christian  faith is not really  helping us at this time  of crisis.   

The government, which is the protector and servant of the people of Namibia, is at a crossroads.  

  • Will it continue to allow poorly performed backyard abortions to kill or disable women, 
  • Or will it allow the killing of children yet unborn?
  • The solution, it seems, is to be found between a rock and a hard place! 
So, the alarming headlines and the statistics may lead to conclusions and actions in which our nation may be responding to the wind, but in reality we may be reaping   the whirlwind.
God’s answer to this complex question (and sin makes everything complex, doesn’t it?)  has been given to the church which is in possession of the Bible -  the Word of God.  In it we shall find that sinful people like ourselves have  to come to terms  that their sin  is in the first place not against the law  per se, but against Him who is the End of the law and who is the  Give of Life.  When David had an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, a union out of which a child would be born, he knew that he had  principally  sinned  against God.[4]

The church, under the direction of her God, invites women not to abort babies. 
There are alternatives, and if government can do anything here, then it  is to support baby shelters for abandoned babies, and to support responsible, tested  Christian agencies  that would  receive  and place abandoned  babies into loving homes. 

Such agencies would also love, care, nurture and counsel women that have aborted  back to emotional and spiritual health.   




[1] Haufiku said the figures could reach 10 000 since many such cases involving women aged below 25 years go unreported.  Under Namibia's Abortion and Sterilisation Act 1975, abortions are illegal for women and girls, except in extreme cases such as rape, incest, or endangerment of the mother's or child's life.  Health ministry figures show that the Katutura Intermediate Hospital with 1 503 had the highest number of cases, followed by the Windhoek Central Hospital with 878 cases. Oshakati State Hospital recorded 766 cases; Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital, 621; Rundu State Hospital, 419; Outapi State Hospital, 405; Swakopmund State Hospital, 329; Walvis Bay State Hospital, 302; Otjiwarongo State Hospital, 246; Katima Mulilo State Hospital, 201; Gobabis State Hospital, 174; Engela State Hospital, 126; Rehoboth State Hospital, 121; and Okahao State Hospital 105 cases.Haufiku told a press conference yesterday that of the 7 335 cases, 138 were medical abortions (authorised cases), which constitutes 2% of the total.  He said in most cases, an illegal abortion is only presented to health facilities when it is incomplete, or if the woman develops complications such as haemorrhaging and infections.  According to Haufiku, it is of major concern, as unsafe abortions pose a major risk to women's physical and mental health. “We need thorough national reflection on the reasons why so many women risk their lives by resorting to unsafe abortions in a country where contraceptives are widely available. Most importantly, we need to ask ourselves whether it is not time to relook the legislation and decriminalise abortion,” he stated.   He added that it now requires everybody, not only the health ministry, but the communities, religious bodies and opposition to seriously think about what needs to be done to bring down these figures.   Although the health ministry will try its best to contain the situation, a national debate and consultations across all sectors are needed to pass new regulations which many people will agree with “In the end, we will have to take a decision. We cannot allow it to go on as is the case at the moment”, he stressed. Haufiku said as much as his ministry is aware that abortions are illegal, they do not report the women who seek medical assistance to the police because they do not want to scare away others, or be viewed as a “police agency”.  “It becomes a difficult situation if we report them to the police. We will actually lose a lot of them. If we reported 7 000 this year, next year the number might come down to 700,” he said, adding that he does not want to create animosity between the affected women and the medical fraternity. “I don't believe that reporting them to the police is the best solution,” he noted”. Apart from the high abortion cases, the minister also said the country was not doing well as far as maternal health was concerned because from April 2012 to March 2015, there were 3 434 neonatal deaths and 93 maternal deaths out of the 191 517 live births.  One hundred and three maternal deaths were also reported over 20 months between 1 April 2015 and 30 November 2016.“The major causes of maternal mortality are the hypertensive disease, obstetric haemorrhages, pregnancy-related sepsis, abortions and anaesthetic complications,” he revealed, adding that another indirect cause of maternal mortality is related to the high HIV-AIDS prevalence...“Abortion, being a moral matter, has been a concern for many years, regardless from which perspective it is looked at. It has to be dealt with at another level,” he added. Legal Assistance Centre lawyer Corinna van Wyk said it is important that abortions are legalised in order to create more opportunities for women to have safe abortions.  “The figures show that we need to revisit our laws on abortion,” she said.

[2] In the same newspaper on Friday, 30th March,  a cartoon by ‘Dudley’  together  with an editorial, entitled  “Abortion is Not the Only Killer”  raised the issue again. This is what the editorial had to say:   “500 WOMEN die from abortion every year.' Perhaps such should be the news headlines to make Namibians understand we have a crisis, and all because of a lack of empathy. Health minister Bernard Haufiku tried this week to highlight the magnitude of the problem when he announced that more than 7 300 women were treated at state health centres last year due to “illegal abortions” gone wrong. Haufiku said the figure could be as high as 10 000 –– at least 27 cases a day.  The minister called for “decriminalisation” of abortion, which is outlawed by legislation dating back to 1975. We can only imagine the minister is treading carefully for fear of a backlash from zealots, who view the issue as nothing but a callous crime committed by pregnant women. People who label pregnant women as murderers over abortions refuse to see the far more dangerous threats to lives.  Earlier this month, a young woman died at Ondangwa after undergoing a backyard abortion. Her helper was arrested for murder. Many women are hunted down like hard-core criminals, also accused of “baby-dumping”.  Last week at Walvis Bay, a woman was arrested and charged with murder after “abandoning” her five-month-old baby while she went to work as a security guard for 13 hours. Security guards often work half-day shifts for bosses who have no mercy. A lot is wrong with Namibians if we crush a mother who just lost her five-month-old infant. Whether abortion, baby-dumping, or abandonment, empathy is what is needed. No woman goes through pregnancy and birth only to get rid of it without incredible emotional and physical pain.  Minister Haufiku warned that the criminalisation of abortion only makes the crisis worse. He knows the poor people suffer most, because the rich can pay professionals to avoid complications, or go to South Africa where abortion is legal.  We support Haufiku that arrests in abortion cases (including baby-dumping and “neglect”) must stop immediately, as those responsible are not a danger to society.  In fact, Haufiku and his cabinet colleagues must immediately start the process to legalise abortion and offer counselling. Abortion is not the killer, lack of empathy and care is.
[4]  See Psalm 51 

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