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Mozambique Set to Liberalise Abortion Law

Mozambique is set to end its blanket ban on abortion after the government acknowledged that current legislation was endangering the lives of women in one of Africa's most impoverished nations.

The proposed shake-up follows the release of a report by the health ministry which said around 100 pregnant women were dying every year after seeing backstreet abortionists while many more suffered "serious after-effects." Abortion was first outlawed in the former Portuguese colony in legislation dating back to 1886, a ban reaffirmed in a 1981 law six years after the southeastern African country gained independence.

However Justice Minister Esperanca Machavela has confirmed that a review is being drawn up and is likely to be presented to parliament after it reconvenes in October.

With the ruling Frelimo party enjoying a majority in parliament, government legislation can be expected to pass comfortably.

The announcement has sparked emotions -- in a country where Catholicism is the most widely followed religion, practiced by about a third of the population, but where women's groups are calling for change.

"You're asking me if I am for or against the decriminalisation of abortion? My response is yes -- a thousand times over," says Laurinda Chirindza whose 15-year-old daughter died last year.

"My daughter fell pregnant to someone who was barely older than her," said the tearful 43-year-old.

"When I discovered what had happened, I immediately decided that she should have an abortion.

I didn't want her to have the same life as me.

"I also fell pregnant when I was very young, when I was 14, and I had to abandon my studies." "My friends told me about a nurse who could do the procedure at her own home.

After agreeing on the price, 650 meticas (22 euros/30 dollars), we returned two days later." The teenager took the abortion drugs supplied by the nurse, but she soon began vomit ing and violently shaking.

"As her situation got worse, I insisted that she be taken to the A and E (accident and emergency) at the central hospital.

We then had trouble finding a car, and when we finally arrived, the doctors told us that it was too late.

My daughter died." According to the health ministry, 30 percent of women admitted to Maputo's main hospital following a backstreet abortion end up dead.

Figures compiled by the UN's World Health Organisation show that some 68,000 women die annually due to unsafe abortions, most in developing countries such as Mozambique -- which is still reeling from a devastating 1976-1992 civil war that claimed up to one million lives.

The influential Catholic Church is firmly against decriminalisation, with the Archbishop of Maputo, Francisco Chimoio, even declaring last month that women who terminate pregnancy can expect to "live their lives in fear of divine punishment." The admonition has not daunted women's groups.

"We should follow the path that has been taken by Portugal in decriminalising abortion," after a February referendum there, said Graca Sand, who works for the Forum Mulher, a charity for impoverished women.

Abortion still remains taboo in much of Africa where many countries have a blanket ban.

Although South Africa does allow termination of pregnancy on demand, it is illegal in Mozambique's other neighbours, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

According to the Mozambican health ministry, 58 percent of women who have had an abortion did so at home, very often without the help of anyone with medical training.

Rosa Mateus, 23, who works as a waitress, survived, but says she can never have children again.

"I fell pregnant at a time when I was struggling on my own with my two other children ...

After talking to some of my friends, I went to see a pharmacist who gave me some drugs which I took at home.

But soon after I had taken those things, I began to feel very, very sick." With her husband in prison, Mateus had to call her parents who rushed her round to the emergency ward.

"The doctors told me I could easily have died." "The law is a hypocrite," says Rogerio Sitoi, a doctor practising at a private clinic in the capital.

In a country where 54 percent of the population live on less than two dollars, "it's the poorest women who suffer, forced to go through abortions carried out by apprentice sorcerers and in dangerous conditions."


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