Civil Society Organizes to Change the Abortion Laws and Policy in Mozambique
Status of safe abortion in Mozambique
It is difficult to measure the impact of unsafe abortion on women and girls in Mozambique, since the current laws are so narrow that even deaths resulting from unsafe abortions are often not able to be reported by the health system. Estimates for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, however, suggest that 14 percent of all maternal deaths are due to complications from unsafe abortion (WHO, 2008). Mozambique’s abortion laws are highly restrictive, allowing a woman to obtain a voluntary abortion only when her life is at risk, or in cases of sexual assault. For those women who do meet these requirements, the process to obtain services is lengthy and complicated; further compounded by the fact that the only facilities which do offer legal abortion services are often both physically and financially out of reach. Mobilizing civil society to take action
Civil society organization in Mozambique is still relatively young, with most organizations only having formed in the last fifteen years, after the end of the civil war. As a result, while in other countries civil society organizations have been able to combine forces to impact policy change in areas like abortion and sexual rights, in Mozambique this had not yet happened for abortion. Therefore, when a new and more progressive abortion law was introduced to Parliament in 2007, there was not sufficient civil society pressure, and the bill was put aside in the lead-up to the 2009 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. In order to address this, in 2011, with support from the Safe Abortion Action Fund and later from the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Pathfinder International collaborated with a number of national and international civil society organizations in Mozambique to form the Coalition for the Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights. Comprised of groups participating in a range of issues related to sexual health and rights, the Coalition, under the leadership of a Secretariat comprised of Pathfinder, Women and Law in Southern Africa, and Forum Mulher, established an ambitious agenda with revision of the Mozambican abortion laws at the forefront.
After formation, the Coalition hit the ground running. After holding meetings and advocating with members of the Mozambican Parliament and the Ministry of Health, the Coalition was invited to participate in crafting a 2011 revision of the penal code, which was then approved by the Governing Council later in 2011. Once these revisions are approved by Parliament, expected in October of 2012, they will expand legal access to elective abortion to all women within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, and beyond twelve weeks for women whose health is at risk or who are survivors of sexual assault.
While passage of the revised penal code will be an enormous victory for the women and girls of Mozambique, it is only the beginning of the process to ensure widespread access to safe, affordable, and non-discriminatory abortion services. Advocacy efforts will need to continue around reducing cost of services, and toward eliminating stigma related to abortion.
Additionally, a wider range of health facilities will need to be prepared to provide services. Pathfinder’s work in Mozambique includes training additional providers to provide safe, non-stigmatizing abortion services, and ensuring that clinics are equipped with the necessary supplies. Continuing this work will be critical to ensuring that women in Mozambique have safe, accessible, and affordable services.
List of Coalition members:
- Associação Moçambicana para Desenvolvimento da Família (AMODEFA)
- Association for the Development of the Mozambican Family
- Association of Women Lawyers
- Coalisão da Mozambique
- Forum Mulher
- Mozambican AIDS Organization
- Mozambican Association of Midwifery
- Mozambican Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Pathfinder International (Mozambique)
- Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust
- Women, Law, and Development
Watch "No Safe Choice," a slideshow about unsafe, caldestine abortion in Mozambique by Mercedes Sayagues.