International charity Marie Stopes has denied promoting abortions to teenage girls in Kenya after the government banned a radio advertisement, saying it only wanted to raise awareness.
Marie Stopes Kenya said it was running a radio, social media and newspaper campaign on the dangers of unsafe abortions, but not targeting teenagers, after the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) announced the ban last month.
Kenya’s 2010 constitution broadened access to abortion, permitting it in cases when a woman’s life is at risk, but unsafe abortions are rife – and remain a leading cause of maternal mortality.
“We don’t know what radio advert the KFCB is referring to, as we have no adverts which target teenagers,” marketing director Christopher Wainainana told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Unsafe abortions are responsible for the deaths of so many women in Kenya. All we are doing is providing public health messaging informing women of their rights regarding abortion in Kenya, and where they can access safe abortion services.”
Almost half a million abortions were conducted in Kenya in 2012 – mostly in backstreet clinics – resulting in one in four women and girls having complications such as high fever, sepsis, shock and organ failure, said a ministry of health report.
An estimated 266 women die per 100,000 unsafe abortions in Kenya – higher than rates estimated in other east African nations, it added.
The KFCB issued a statement on Sept 11 claiming a Marie Stopes advert “targets teenage girls by giving them alternatives to unwanted or unplanned pregnancies” but did not specify which advert it was referring to.
Marie Stopes – which works in 37 countries providing free contraception, advice on family planning, sexual health and safe abortion and post-abortion care – said its campaign was aimed at providing women with an informed choice.
Wainana said the charity had received no formal notification from the KFCB and would continue to air weekly 15-minute discussion programmes on popular radio stations and a teaser advertising its clinics.
Campaigners say authorities – influenced by powerful Christian organisations – are making it harder for women to access safe abortions.
Since 2010, the ministry of health has withdrawn essential guidelines on conducting safe abortions and banned health workers from training on abortion – which helped safe-guard against backstreet practitioners.
“There are many girls and women who are dying due to botched abortions as they don’t know what to do and where to go if they have an unwanted pregnancy,” said Evelyne Opondo, Africa director of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“It’s ridiculous that there is a government body saying that they should not be getting the information they need in order to save their lives.”
This article was written by Nita Bhalla and edited by Claire Cozens for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.