By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The mother of a 15-year-old rape survivor, who needs a kidney transplant following a botched backstreet abortion, filed a case against Kenya's government on Monday for denying women and girls safe access to terminations.
The girl, who said she became pregnant when she was raped by an older man, started vomiting and bleeding heavily after an unsafe abortion.
Rape survivors have difficulty accessing safe abortions in Kenya, despite being allowed to under the ministry of health's guidelines on managing sexual violence, the petition said.
Kenya has rolled back its limited access to abortion over the last couple of years, although the 2010 constitution permits terminations only in emergencies or when a woman's life or health is at risk.
"The Kenyan government is allowing thousands of women in Kenya to needlessly die or suffer severe complications every year due to unsafe abortion, and it must be held accountable," Evelyne Opondo, regional director for Africa for the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) advocacy group, which is representing the petitioners, said in a statement.
The four petitioners in the case are the girl's mother, the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya and two women's rights advocates.
Abortion is a hotly contested issue in Kenya and across Africa, where conservative religious beliefs hold sway.
Unsafe abortions, sometimes carried out by inserting knitting needles into the cervix or drinking bleach, account for some 35 percent of maternal deaths in Kenya, versus the global average of 13 percent.
At least 2,600 Kenyan women die in public hospitals each year after having botched abortions elsewhere, according to a study by Ipas Africa Alliance lobby group, Kenya's ministry of health and the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya. Many more die at home without seeking medical care.
There is "great confusion" as to when abortions can be performed legally, CRR said.
Rich women can easily access safe abortions in private facilities, but the poor and uneducated risk their lives trying to expel the fetus themselves or with backstreet quacks, believing that they cannot legally get an abortion.
The government published safe abortion guidelines for medics for the first time in 2012 but rescinded them in 2013. The health ministry in 2014 banned government healthcare providers from attending training on safe abortion.
Police harassment of patients and medics increased following a nurse's 2014 sentencing to death for murder after a woman seeking post-abortion care died in his car, rights groups said.
The petitioners are calling on the government to restore safe abortion training and introduce guidelines clarifying when legal abortion can be provided.
The teenage girl has dropped out of school and requires regular kidney dialysis, which she cannot afford, according to an online petition set up to lobby Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to provide her with medical care.
(Reporting by Katy Migiro, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)