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‘Underground’ Abortions In Kenya Lead To High Rates Of Complications, Strain Health System

In a Mother Jones opinion piece, journalist Alex Park writes that in Kenya, “keeping abortions underground has led to an incredible rate of complications, putting a strain on an already overburdened health care system.” According to a report (.pdf) by the Kenyan Ministry of Health, “one change could go a long way toward reducing stress on a hugely overburdened system: allowing more women to have an abortion,” he writes, noting, “Though Kenyans reconsidered an existing abortion ban when writing their 2010 constitution, the nation’s top legal document still virtually forbids the procedure.” Noting that “[i]n 2012, almost 120,000 Kenyan women, or more than a third of all women who underwent [abortion], experienced complications,” Park adds, “The vast majority of these complications, the researchers found, followed ‘unsafe abortions’ carried out by untrained people or ‘in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards.’”

“Out of 100,000 unsafe abortions in Kenya today, the researchers estimated, 266 women die,” according to Park. “That rate is lower than the [WHO's] estimate for all of sub-Saharan Africa (520 deaths per 100,000 unsafe abortions), but far higher than in developed regions, where the rate is estimated to be 30 per 100,000,” he notes, and writes, “Loosening the virtual abortion ban may not end Kenya’s flood of post-abortion complications overnight, but it could save innumerable lives.” He highlights Ethiopia as an example, noting a “legislature decriminalized abortion under certain conditions” in 2004, and “as of 2008, the rate of abortion-related complications in Ethiopia was only 20 percent — still high, but far lower than in Kenya.” However, “the real takeaway from this study, and why U.S. states pondering their own supercharged abortion restrictions should pay attention, is how unsafe abortions harm more than just the women on whom they are performed” because caring for women who have complications puts a strain on health system resources (8/24).