Legal reform in Mozambique widens access to safe abortion care

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

smiling woman

Mozambique has liberalized its abortion law with the goal of reducing maternal mortality by significantly broadening women’s access to safe abortion care. The groundbreaking legislation was approved by the Parliament in July as part of a new penal code and finalized on 18 December 2014, when President Armando Guebuza signed it into law.

Women in Mozambique now will be able to get legal abortions on request during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In cases of rape or incest, abortions will be legal during the first 16 weeks, and in cases of fetal anomaly, the first 24 weeks. Abortions must be performed at officially designated facilities by qualified practitioners.

Calling the new law “a huge victory for the women of Mozambique,” Ambassador Dr. Eunice Brookman-Amissah, special advisor to Ipas President Elizabeth Maguire for African affairs, says the law reform took more than a decade of persistent and sustained advocacy. The Ministry of Health, the Mozambican Association of Obstetricians/Gynecologists, Ipas, Pathfinder International and other women’s, legal, health and civil society organizations were part of the nationwide advocacy effort.

The old law—which  dated back to the 1800s, when Mozambique was a colony of Portugal—was  restrictive and punitive, forcing many women to terminate unwanted pregnancies through clandestine, unsafe procedures. Unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in Mozambique, which has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality ratios.

With an eye toward saving women’s lives by increasing access to safe abortion care, Ipas began working with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and other partners in Mozambique more than a decade ago. In 2003, Ipas collaborated with the MOH to conduct an assessment of abortion and postabortion services in 54 public facilities across the country.  In subsequent years, Ipas worked with the government to improve training and service delivery related to postabortion care and to do research to build the evidence base on the ability of midlevel providers to offer medical abortion safely. Over the past decade, Ipas also engaged parliamentarians about the need for law reform, worked with the media to highlight the dangers of unsafe abortion, and worked with women’s groups, medical associations, youth groups and other partners to support legal change.

As the South African-based health journalist Mercedes Sayagues wrote in the Daily Maverick, the new law promises to “save women from the brutality of clandestine operations” and “puts Mozambique among the handful of progressive countries in Africa that guarantee women’s right to control their bodies without unwanted pregnancies.”