Friday, March 5, 2010

Abortion Policy in Uganda

Grounds on which abortion is permitted:

To save the life of the woman Yes
To preserve physical health Yes
To preserve mental health Yes
Rape or incest No
Foetal impairment No
Economic or social reasons No
Available on request No

Additional requirements:

A legal abortion must be performed by a registered physician. Although the law does not require the approval of a committee, the consent of two physicians is usually sought before a legal abortion can be performed.

Government view on fertility level: Too high

Government intervention concerning fertility level: To lower

Government policy on contraceptive use: Direct support provided

Percentage of currently married women using
modern contraception (aged 15-49, 1995): 8

Total fertility rate (1995-2000): 7.1

Age-specific fertility rate (per 1,000 women aged 15-19, 1995-2000): 180

Government has expressed particular concern about:
Morbidity and mortality resulting from induced abortion Yes
Complications of childbearing and childbirth Yes

Maternal mortality ratio (per 100,000 live births, 1990):
National 1 200
Eastern Africa 1 060

Female life expectancy at birth (1995-2000): 40.4


Under the Ugandan Penal Code of 15 June 1950 (sections 136-138, 205 and 217) the performance of abortions is generally prohibited. Any person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman, unlawfully administers any noxious thing or uses any means is subject to imprisonment for fourteen years. A pregnant woman who undertakes the same act or consents to its performance is subject to seven years’ imprisonment. Any person who unlawfully supplies means to procure an abortion knowing that it is unlawfully intended for that purpose is subject to three years’ imprisonment.

Nonetheless, under other provisions of the Penal Code an abortion may be performed to save the life of a pregnant woman. Section 217 of the Code provides that a person is not criminally responsible for performing in good faith and with reasonable care and skill a surgical operation upon an unborn child for the preservation of the mother’s life if the performance of the operation is reasonable, having regard to the patient’s state at the time and to all the circumstances of the case. In addition, Section 205 of the Code provides that no person shall be guilty of the offence of causing by willful act a child to die before it has an independent existence from its mother if the act was carried out in good faith for the purpose of preserving the mother’s life.

Moreover, Uganda, like a number of Commonwealth countries, whose legal systems are based the English common law, follows the holding of the 1938 English Rex v. Bourne decision in determining whether an abortion performed for health reasons is lawful. In the Bourne decision, a physician was acquitted of the offence of performing an abortion in the case of a woman who had been raped. The court ruled that the abortion was lawful because it had been performed to prevent the woman from becoming “a physical and mental wreck”, thus setting a precedent for future abortion cases performed on the grounds of preserving the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health. The liberalization and legality of abortion in Uganda has been complicated by the use of rape as a weapon of war and terror by rebel groups in the region.

Illegal abortions are common in Uganda. As a result, there is a high level of maternal mortality, estimated in 1990 at 1,200 deaths per 100,000 live births. A 1986 study found that 35 per cent of maternal deaths were linked to complications from unsafe abortion. Induced abortion has been ranked as the second leading cause of maternal mortality in the main referral hospital in Uganda. Illegal abortion is more prevalent among young women. A survey carried out in 1988 among women aged 15-24 years found that 23 per cent of all the women that had ever been pregnant had had one or more abortions. The Government has expressed serious concern over these trends. The high level of induced abortion among young women in Uganda has led the Government to establish family life education programmes in primary and secondary schools.