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Friday, April 16, 2010

Abortion debate shows we are a nation of hypocrites

I have often wondered why the dead are more revered than the living in Kenya and why the unborn are valued more than those that are alive.

Why should a funeral be the biggest event in a person’s life and not his birth? What hypocrisy allows us to hold feasts at funerals, even knowing that the deceased left a wife and children in abject poverty? We worship the unborn foetus but not the woman who bears it for nine months. And when the child is born, we worry less about her future than about whether she was baptised or circumcised according to religious or ethnic edicts.

We go to church on Sunday and then steal from innocent Kenyans the rest of the week. We loudly profess our love and loyalty to Jesus, Allah, Ram, Krishna, Ngai, the Virgin Mary, Buddha ,or Guru Nanak and then treat our fellow citizens with disdain. We pray before meetings and then pass decisions that are not in the interest of all of humanity but only in the interest of those gathered at the meeting.

We are, in essence, a nation of hypocrites.

And no other group takes the cake for hypocrisy than our religious leaders. That is why at a time when the country has one opportunity to unite to heal the wounds of the past, church leaders are gathering their flock to break this unity and create doubt in a constitution that cost several hundred lives and millions of shillings to draft.

Why?

Because they believe that if a constitution allows it, every pregnant woman in Kenya will run to a clinic and demand an abortion.

Well, this may be news to the clergy, but abortion is more widespread than they would like to believe — with or without a constitution that sanctions it. Many studies have shown that girls, particularly those in city slums, resort to abortion when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Girls all over the country are procuring illegal, unsafe, and unhygienic abortions in back-street clinics through untrained abortionists who use the most crude methods to get rid of foetuses. Those who don’t die from these procedures end up in the emergency wards of public hospitals, where doctors clean the uterus and try to save the girls’ lives. In other words, abortion will occur in this country whether we like it or not, or whether or not it is legalised.

These women and girls are not evil. In many cases, they are victims of rape or incest. Ignorance about the use of contraception or about their own bodies makes them particularly susceptible to unwanted pregnancy. The issue at stake here, the way I see it, is not whether the Kenyan constitution allows abortion in certain circumstances or not. The battle for or against abortion has never been about the unborn child or the sanctity of life, but about who controls women’s bodies. Because if every human life in Kenya were sacred, were a gift from God and had intrinsic value by virtue of being human, then we would not be treating each other with such contempt and suspicion. We would not allow half our country’s population to wallow in poverty and allow a handful to loot state coffers. We would not exploit our labour or mistreat our women and children. No, the battle the clergy is waging is the battle for women’s bodies. This is a battle that has been waged since time immemorial. And the simple reason for this is that men — who control most religious institutions in the world — have never been able to get over the fact that it is women, not men, who are biologically built to perform a function that has been attributed to a male God — creation.

That is why the loudest voices against contraception and abortion have always been male. No male will ever know or experience menstruation, pregnancy, or the hormonal changes associated with menopause. They can never really understand the joy — or pain — of giving birth.

In many cases, they are not even sure if the child they believe they sired is actually theirs or belongs to another man — that is something only a woman can know. So they have for centuries subjugated, veiled, confined, and oppressed women so as to have control over their bodies. Yet, and this is the irony, women and girls have been obtaining abortions for centuries, even in countries where they are extremely difficult to obtain.

The draft constitution Kenyans have before them does not even mention abortion-on-demand as a right, yet one would think, going by the clergy’s proclamations, that having an abortion will become as easy as removing a tooth once the new constitution is passed.

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