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Gulu district registers more than 4,000 abortion cases in fifteen months

Women rush to the hospital in critical condition, some with dead fetuses but nobody will admit to abortion

Gulu, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Gulu District Health Department is battling the rise in abortions. A high number of women are turning up at health facilities in the district for post-abortion care. At least 4,036 cases of abortions have been recorded in the different health facilities in Gulu district over the past 15 months. Gulu Regional Referral Hospital alone received 1,317 cases in need of post-abortion care and registered 7 deaths.

Statistics from the District Health department show that 298 women aborted due to domestic violence and the men declining to take responsibility for their pregnancies. While statistics on the other causes of abortion remain scanty, 1,020 women admitted for post-abortion care at the different health facilities were predominantly aged between 15 and 35. The data was generated from the 60 different health facilities in the district from January 2020 to the second week of May 2021, which excludes statistics from private clinics.

Dr. Christine Susan Akili, the senior nursing officer in the gynecology ward at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital says that most of the women rush to the hospital in critical condition. “Some come with dead fetuses but nobody will admit to having aborted. All they say is that it has occurred by itself and we can’t probe further other than saving the mother,” Akili explained.

Akili says that although some of the cases were due to malaria and other health conditions, there is a need for women in the district to embrace family planning to avoid unplanned pregnancies.

Dr. Filder Anicia, the in-charge of Reproductive Health Uganda, Gulu branch says access to reproductive health services in the region is still low. The Uganda demographic survey 2016 shows that between 16 and 18 maternal deaths occur daily in Uganda while abortions contribute to 26% of the maternal deaths in the country. However, the fact that abortions largely remain illegal with the legal aspects not fully understood, many health practitioners fear to disclose to the public on the post-abortion services they provide.

An official from Gulu District Health Department who spoke to Uganda Radio Network on condition of anonymity says that the practice is not only illegal but is widely condemned in the Bible. “It’s not only it’s ambiguous legal understanding but I am a Catholic and our doctrine is clear that abortion is a sin of murder, we don’t need the Constitution to stop that, the Bible is clear” she added.

The Penal Code Act penalizes abortion. However, section 22 (2) of the Constitution provides for the termination of the unborn through performance of the surgical procedures to save the mother. While the data on abortions in the country remains scanty, at least 800 women sought for the post abortion care at Kawempe hospital alone in 2020, according to the report from the Hospital.

In his argument, the Makerere University Law School Lecturer Prof. Ben Twinomugisha says that abortion is justifiable in pregnancies that arise from incest, rape and extramarital affairs. Whereas the World Health Organization describes abortion as the termination of pregnancy before it got viable at 28 weeks, Twinomugish argues that health is complete physical and mental health.

“Imagine a scenario where a young girl of P.5 is defiled by a teacher and gets pregnant, how would you handle this? Put yourself in the minds of a person with an unplanned pregnancy,” Twinomugisha said. The Retired Bishop of Northern Uganda, Nelson Onono Onweng who doubles as the Chairman Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative says the rate of abortion in Gulu is alarming. Onono revealed that a regional meeting for the Church leaders will be held within two months to discuss the vice.

“We don’t need our daughters to get impregnated but the responsibility to stop this largely remains with our children who need to live a responsible life,” Bishop Onono said. However, Phiona Akello, a 22-year-old mother with 5-month-old pregnancy told Uganda Radio Network on Monday in an interview that many of the women are battling with single motherhood. “The responsibility on us women is high and I know of 10 of my colleagues who aborted but that don’t justify abortion,” Akello explained.

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