Abortion is not a matter of right only. It is a matter of life, faith, morality, culture and health. Abortion is such a divisive issue in Europe and other western countries, and it sometimes influences election campaigns and results, as we saw in the recent presidential election in the US. In a country as religious as Ethiopia, however, public deliberation on abortion gets little attention, writes Getachew Tamiru.
A few weeks ago, news about suspension of 11 NGOs by the Ethiopian Charities and Societies Agency appeared in Ethiopian newspapers. One of them was an abortion service provider suspended for allegedly charging up to 9,000 birr from the poor in Addis Ababa. News of abortion service providers scrambling for profit is not uncommon in our times. Abortion is becoming a lucrative business in various countries. This is a disturbing reality for those who are gravely concerned with the protection of life at all stages – born and unborn. In our Ethiopian context, what is more disturbing is the fact that there is no counter narrative to keep in check the rhetoric of pro-abortion narratives. In a country where faith plays a crucial role, protection of life is suffering from moral disregard, legal laxity and misinformation.
Abortion and morality
In western countries, where the role of religion in shaping public opinion is waning, abortion is still one of the most controversial issues. Yet in a country as religious as Ethiopia, abortion hardly faces a moral hurdle. The media often advocate the right to abortion with little regard to corresponding moral values. There is an unwritten law that no woman shall be denied abortion. But the Ethiopian law, except in some “conditions”, criminalizes it. Yet, no one dares challenge this. And we hardly ever hear religious authorities speaking for the rights of unborn children.
Absence of pro-life public figures
Ethiopia lacks compelling pro-life public figures in both the religious and political arena. Outside Ethiopia, there are many pro-life moral figures that speak truth to power regarding abortion. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a figure known to many of us for her charity and love towards the poor and most vulnerable, is one of them. She once said, “If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other.” If abortion becomes an act that can easily be condoned, society will fall into a mentality that devalues life and considers the most vulnerable – unborn children – as undesirable. Mother Teresa says this type of abortion mentality is “The greatest destroyer of love and peace.” We need more people like Mother Teresa whose words and deeds unequivocally witness the dignity and sacredness of human life from conception to natural death.
“Culture of death” engulfing us
Ethiopian cultures value and celebrate life. When a woman gives birth to a child, people gather to sing, celebrate life and praise the Giver of Life: God. Abortion is, therefore, as seen from the perspective of culture, repulsive and immoral. Our cultures and religious beliefs in general are pro-life, and they see abortion as a serious violator of human life. But when it comes to practice, it seems that the influence of culture is gradually waning, yet only few people seem to be concerned about it.
On the other hand, western countries tend to impose their cultures and ideologies, including abortion, on developing countries. Aid is given on condition that developing countries accept certain aspects of their ideologies. While they themselves are caught up in culture war, the effect of this war is being felt in developing countries like Ethiopia, making us subject to what Pope John Paul II rightly referred to as a “Culture of Death.” This is a mentality marked by an attitude that sees children, the sick and the elderly as “too burdensome.”
The paradox of Ethiopian abortion law
A legal reform undertaken by Ethiopia in 2005 is praised by many abortion advocates as one of the progressive abortion laws in Africa According to the law, abortion is allowed in case of rape and incest, when either the mother’s or her baby’s life is endangered, when the baby is “deformed”, or the woman is mentally or physically disabled. In case of a minor, she can abort when she is physically or psychologically unprepared to raise the child. The paradox of the law is that while it prohibits abortion, it opens several loopholes to access abortion on demand. In reality, if a woman (I am not excluding men here) wants to get an abortion, there is nothing to stop her. For example, she is required to provide no proof if she states rape as a reason to procure abortion. Her statement should be enough. The laxity in the abortion law is encouraging the already debilitating moral stance on abortion. And almost nobody seems to be interested to speak about it.
Psychological problems associated with abortion
Most women, even men, experience psychological trauma after getting an abortion; this is often known as post-abortion syndrome. Thousands of people suffering from post-abortion syndrome and hundreds of research work bear witness that abortion can result in guilt, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, a desire to avoid children or pregnant women, and flashbacks to the abortion itself. Yet abortion advocates promote it as “safe”, and downplay its effects.
In various countries, including the west, many men and women are coming out to publicly talk about the traumatic effects of abortion. Celebrities such as Eminem and Nicki Minaj (both were involved in aborting their unborn children) for example, have addressed in their songs the effects of abortion and the sense of guilt they were suffering.
In Ethiopia, while there are several radio and TV programs focusing on women and their challenges in Ethiopia, few or none of them talk about post-abortion psychological problems. Discussing abortion is still considered a taboo in many contexts, yet the abortion mentality seems to be a growing norm in many places in our country.
Our sisters and daughters deserve more
Abortion advocates argue that women should have children by choice, not by chance. There is an element of truth in this statement. But most women decide to get an abortion because they feel they have no choice. Their economic, family, social and other realities push them into making uninformed or misinformed decisions—often leaving indelible scars. There is no doubt that our sisters and daughters deserve quality, life-saving healthcare. They also deserve, among other things, quality education, access to financial support and pro-family laws that can truly help them make the right choices. Instead of putting more money into abortion provision, maybe we should think of putting more money into providing our women with quality education and opportunities that practically empower them. Concerned actors should be investing more on mitigating the factors that encourage abortion, not championing abortion as the solution.
Facing abortion realities
In Ethiopia, there are few or no institutions, faith groups or individuals who support women faced with the dilemma of abortion. Women do not have facilities that provide them with full information on the realities of abortion and post-abortion trauma. It is, therefore, time to think about establishing service providing centers and institutions in this regard.
There is lack of genuine discussion on the moral and psychological issues regarding abortion in Ethiopia. Abortion can deeply wound souls, destabilize families and disturb societal mentality. That is why we need to break the silence and openly discuss it. Citizens, faith groups, media, educational institutions, policy makers and politicians should be able to adequately understand and speak about the realities of abortion.
Abortion is not a matter of right only. It is a matter of life, faith, morality, culture and health. Abortion is such a divisive issue in Europe and other western countries, and it sometimes influences election campaigns and results, as we saw in the recent presidential election in the US. In a country as religious as Ethiopia, however, public deliberation on abortion gets little attention. It should not be regarded as only within the purview of health care providers and policy makers. Discussion on the moral, legal, health and psychological effects of abortion should not be ignored or sidelined.
Abortion is not primarily about economic woes, life style adjustments or social stigma. It is about life and death. It is about the soul of society. It is about protecting life at all stages: from “womb to tomb.”
Ed.‘s Note: Getachew Tamiru is a journalist by training. The views expressed in this articel do not necessarily relfect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].
Contributed by Getachew Tamiru