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Rwanda: Parliament Mulling Proposal to Legalize Abortion

(Apr. 5, 2012) On March 26, 2012, it was reported that the Rwandan Parliament is considering a draft presidential order aimed at legalizing abortion in limited circumstances, including in cases of rape, incest, or serious health risk to the mother. (Abortion Might be Legalized in Certain Cases, THE RWANDA FOCUS (Mar. 26, 2012).)

Currently, all forms of abortion are illegal in Rwanda. Both abortion and the attempt to commit abortion are offenses under the current law and carry heavy penalties; the former is punishable by a prison term of five to fifteen years, while the latter carries a prison sentence of six months to three years. (Law Relating to Rights and Protection of the Child Against Violence, No. 27 of 2001, § 30 (Apr. 28, 2001), CODES AND LAWS OF RWANDA.)

The proposal before the Parliament seeks to legalize certain forms of abortion by removing a reservation Rwanda made to a provision on the subject when it ratified the 2003 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (also known as the Maputo Protocol). (Abortion Might be Legalized in Certain Cases, supra.) The Maputo Protocol states:

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to: … (c) protect the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus. (Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, art. 14(2) (July 11, 2003), African Commission on Human and People's Rights website.)

The proposal is said to include stringent vetting provisions. According to an official with the country's Ministry of Justice, the measure, if adopted in its current form, would establish an authority consisting of a team of doctors whose function it would be to determine whether applicants meet the requirements for abortion procedures.(Abortion Might be Legalized in Certain Cases, supra.)

Underground abortions are said to be prevalent in Rwanda. A recent study found that in 2009, about 60,000 women in the country had abortions and over 40% of the cases resulted in complications that needed medical attention. (Mutesi Theopista, 60,000 Induced Abortions Occurred in Rwanda in 2009-Study, ORINFOR (Mar. 27, 2012).)