The Reporter (Addis Ababa)
December 8, 1999

Addis Ababa - "Reliable Abortion," that was how one Dr. Zufan Lakew, a labour medical expert, described the need for a less stringent measure in the Ethiopian Penal Code if a woman decides to abort a child through force majeur.

In fact, it was opined last week by the Women's Affairs Standing Committee in the House of Peoples' Representatives that doing so would help in reducing the number of maternal death and also in bringing about a healthy relationship between the sexes.

In sharp contrast, religious institutions' representatives at the conference indicated that abortion was tantamount to murder.

One has learned to regard such opinions, diverse as they are, to be at extreme polar ends. And, it should be, nevertheless, given a chance to change the tune of the Penal Code of 1960. It would also be insincere not to amend the Penal Code, leaving it as it was nearly forty years ago.

Participants supposedly representing experts and regional governments were present to discuss the possible amendment to the Ethiopian Penal Code to guarantee women and children and family rights and security, especially in areas of abduction, rape and abortion.

In a world where 240,000 mothers die as a result of health problems because of abortion, of which the majority of victims are youngsters, may be, it is high time that one rethought past prejudices.

A "reliable abortion" that is safe and hygienic could go a long way in protecting half of the country's population from untimely death. A compromise between a position which views abortion as the right of a woman over her body and that of 'killing a life" was what was looked for.

The over 40,000 street children seen in Addis are only the tip of the iceberg in the vicious circle of unwanted pregnancies. The poor mother- children lining the streets have for sure at one point in time had thought about aborting fetuses.

A 'reliable abortion' that is easily affordable to those who are struggling to survive, leave alone feed another mouth, could end up by being a panacea in curbing two of Ethiopia's most urgent problems - an ever-increasing population, and the problem of too many mouths to feed.

As it was aptly put by Ato Teshay Weda of the Addis Ababa University Law Faculty, implementation of law that sees any kind of reason as a "no-no" could be nothing else but a "paper tiger."