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Rwandan President Paul Kagame at Amahoro Stadium April 7, 2014 in Kigali, Rwanda. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'Positive step'

Hundreds of Rwandan women imprisoned under abortion law receive presidential pardon

April 8, 2019

Some 367 Rwandan women jailed for “the offenses of abortion, complicity in abortion and infanticide” are set to be freed immediately thanks to a sweeping series of pardons issued by Rwandan president Paul Kagame.

Women rights activists hailed the move as a “positive step” for reproductive rights in a country where abortion was criminalized in all circumstances until recently. In August of last year, the government revised its penal code to allow abortions in cases of rape, incest, and risk of maternal or infant mortality. Under the new law, doctors now make final determinations on whether to proceed with an abortions. Previously, women had to present their case before a legal court if they wanted to obtain the procedure.

“Rwanda is responding to the public health and human rights crisis that is created as a result of criminalizing access to abortion,” said Asia Russell, executive director of the Health Global Access Project. “Of course, those people never should have been the target of criminal proceedings in the first place, and much more must be done to ensure the bodily integrity and human rights of women.”

Approximately 60,000 abortions were performed in Rwanda in 2013, nearly all of which were unsafe, according to the latest available figures from the Guttmacher Institute. 22 percent of unintended pregnancies ended in abortion, 63 percent resulted in unplanned births, and 15 percent lead to miscarriages, the institute reported.

According to Tom Mulisa, executive director for the Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development, many Rwandan women are targeted with infanticide charges following miscarriages or stillbirths.

“Although we cannot comment on the particular cases, in general, there is an ongoing trend of charging women for infanticide when that is factually incorrect,” Mulisa said. “A study conducted by Great Lakes initiative found that women were being charged for infanticide and murder, while some were arrested for abortions when in fact they miscarried. Imprisoning women for seeking a health service is a clear violation of their human rights.”

Read the full story at the Guardian.

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