By: James Karuhanga; Originally posted on allAfrica.com
Members of the Chamber of Deputies, yesterday, passed the draft Penal Code, with the majority voting in favour of an article that permits abortion under special circumstances.
The critical vote came after the House received and approved a report of an earlier established joint Chamber of deputies-Senate committee to review the bill.
Seven women MPs abstained from voting for or against Article 165, which absolves criminal liability for exceptional abortion cases, arguing it was hazardous to the Rwandan society.
The article outlines four circumstances under which a woman can carry out an abortion. It also allows a medical doctor to facilitate an abortion under the same conditions.
The four conditions are: when a woman has become pregnant as a result of rape; when a woman has been subjected to forced marriage; when a woman becomes pregnant due to incest and/or when the continuation of pregnancy seriously jeopardises the health of the unborn baby or that of the mother.
The article stipulates that exemption from criminal liability shall be permitted if a woman who seeks abortion submits to the doctor an order issued by a competent court.
"The court where the complaint is filed hears and decides it as a matter of urgency," reads part of the article.
The MPs who abstained noted that there are other ways of dealing with the issue by addressing root causes instead of dealing with consequences.
MPs Francoise Mukayisenga, Constance Rwaka Mukayuhi, Agnes Mukazibera, Euthalie Nyirabega, Athanasie Nyiragwaneza, Landrada Umuraza and Francoise Uwamariya were firmly against the clause.
Like others, Mukayuhi told the House that she was not against the bill as a whole, but article 165.
"I abstained because I think that there are other ways in which we could educate our society such that instead of addressing the consequences of a problem, we go straight to its root," she said.
She said that emphasis should be put on educating the youth through joint efforts by parents and government to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
There has been a polarised public debate in the recent past, with activists on either side of the divide urging the MPs to consider their views.
Some civic groups had appealed to lawmakers to legalise abortion, citing human rights and intolerable circumstances under which a woman may have conceived.
On the other hand, religious leaders and other activists came out strongly, insisting abortion should remain a criminal offence.
Meanwhile, article 162 stipulates that any person who carries out self-induced abortion shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of one to three years and a fine of Rwf 50, 000 to 200,000.
Article 163, states that causing a woman to abort without her consent attracts 10 to 15 years sentence.
In case of mutual consent, it says, a person who causes a woman to abort faces two to five years imprisonment.
Abortion resulting in death (article 164) carries 15 to 20 years if the woman had consented, and life imprisonment and a fine ranging between Rwf200,000 to Rwf2,000,000, if the woman had not consented.
From the Chamber of Deputies, the bill headed to the Senate for final scrutiny.