Civil society organisations in the health sector are pushing for amendments in the abortion law to eliminate the requirement of a court order, which they say has made legal abortion difficult.
The government reformed its abortion law in 2012. However, legal barriers as well as cultural and religious stigma still make it hard for women to get safe, legal abortions.
“A court order should not be required to get an abortion as this should be done by a doctor. We have been pushing for these changes from the start,” said Christopher Sengoga, a human-rights officer at Health Development Initiative.
The other proposed amendment is to change the wording in the law to include girls, because it only mentioned women, yet many under-age girls below 16 years of age are increasingly getting abortions in Rwanda.
Experts are saying the improvements in contraceptive use among women and girls are not occurring fast enough.
According to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda, between 2005 and 2014, the contraceptive prevalence rate for women with low levels of education increased from 11 per cent to 48 per cent.
However, data also shows that progress has significantly slowed down in the past five years.
Between 2010 and 2015, use of modern contraceptive methods only increased by three per cent according to the United Nations Population Fund.
Each year, nearly half or 47 per cent of all pregnancies in the country are unplanned, which shows that 114 out of every per 1,000 pregnancies in women aged 15-44 are unplanned, according to Guttmacher Institute of Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in Rwanda.
In addition, women in the country continue to have more children than they want, women’s average family size is 4.6 children.
About 37 per cent of births in the country each year are unplanned — a proportion that varies slightly by province, from 34 per cent in the West and the North to 37–40 per cent in Kigali City, the South and the East.
Each year, approximately 26,000 women are treated in health facilities for complications of both induced and spontaneous abortions.
Half of all abortions are performed by untrained individuals, 34 per cent by traditional healers, while 17 per cent are self-induced by women.
The gaps in the current abortion law have led to undue harassments from police, arrests, prosecution and imprisonment of hundreds of women and girls every year, and the new amendments are expected to reverse the situation. The amended law is also expected to have elaborate guidelines on abortion.
“It is in the final stages of amendment and we sent the recommended changes to the president’s office, who sent it back to parliament,” said Mr Sengoga.