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Rwanda’s Protestant Council Bans Abortions in its Clinics

Rwanda’s Protestant Council recently barred all its clinics from performing abortions in its clinics.

Rwanda’s Protestant Council has instructed all healthcare facilities administered by members of its organization to stop performing abortions on patients who come into the facilities to get the procedure done. This latest development, which occurred earlier this month, has put a dent in the plans of women in the country who want to get access to the procedure for a variety of reasons.

Rwanda, which is a predominantly Christian society of around 13 million people, has consistently presented its conservative values in various parts of its government. In the 19th century, Christianity was introduced to Rwandan society after Catholic priests settled in the area at the height of colonialism. By the year 1920 the majority of the population was Christian. The most recent census indicated that 43.7% of Rwanda's population is Roman Catholic, 37.7% is Protestant, 11.8% is Seventh-day Adventist, 2.0% is Muslim, and 0.7% are Jehovah's Witnesses. Only 2.5% of Rwandans claim no religious affiliation.

To back its bar on abortion, the council stated that abortion is sinful, although this conflicts with Rwanda’s law which legally allows its citizens to have abortion in specific instances. Their statement, which was signed by 26 Protestant organizations, urged parents to watch over their daughters and encourage them to stay abstinent until marriage.

In a statement obtained by AP News, Laurent Mbanda, the head of the Anglican Church in Rwanda said that the belief of Chrsitians was distinctly separate from that of the law.

“For us, we have our belief, and our belief cannot be taken away by the law. We are not opposing the law,” Mbanda said. “But our belief does not allow us to support abortion.”

Rwanda reformed its abortion law in 2012, but at the time, legal barriers as well as the stigma associated with the procedure prevented women from having access to safe and legal abortions, according to a report from Ipas and Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development. In 2013, the Guttmacher Institute reported that approximately 60,000 abortions occur in Rwanda each year and 22% of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. The hassle has made many Rwandan women with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies resort to unsafe and illegal abortions over the years. In 2018, the Rwandan government revised it abortion penal code, allowing abortion only in specific cases of rape, minors, rape, forced marriage, and incest and instances where the pregnancy would significantly endanger the life of the woman. In 2020, the Rwandan government ordered the release of about 50 women who were jailed for having abortions as part of its efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The council received some push back, with several human rights advocates stating that their stance would further alienate women of childbearing age and push them into the throes of unsafe abortion.

In 2022, Rwanda’s parliament turned down a bill that would allow teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 18 to access contraceptives, with some lawmakers stating that passing the bill would enable young Rwandan girls to live a promiscuous lifestyle.