Current law

The relevant Namibian law is the Abortion and Sterilization Act 2 of 1975 inherited from South Africa at independence. This law allows abortion only in these circumstances:

  • where continuing the pregnancy will endanger the woman’s life or constitute a serious threat to her physical or mental health
  • there is a serious risk that the child will suffer from a physical or mental defect that will result in an irreparable and serious handicap
  • the pregnancy resulted from rape, incest or unlawful carnal intercourse with a woman who has a severe mental incapacity.

Two medical practitioners must provide a certificate verifying the grounds for abortion. Where the basis for the abortion is unlawful intercourse (rape or incest), a certificate from a magistrate is also necessary. Abortion in any other circumstances is a criminal offence for both the woman who seeks it and the person who performs it. The punishment is a fine of up to N$5 000 or imprisonment for up to five years, or both.
The criminalisation of abortion has driven many Namibian women to unsafe abortions.10 The contribution of unsafe abortion to maternal deaths is not known, but the little data that is available suggests that it may account for 12 to 16% of Namibia’s annual maternal deaths.

How many abortions (legal and illegal) take place in Namibia each year?

We do not know the answer to this question.
It is difficult to count abortions in practice because people want to keep it secret if they have done something illegal. Women who can afford it will most likely travel to neighbouring South Africa to access legal abortion services (abortion has been available on request during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in South Africa since 1996), while the practice of ‘baby dumping’ is a common occurrence which may result from the inability to access abortion.
Namibian Police statistics indicated that they received the following:

Attitudes in Namibia:

In June 2020, calls for legalising abortion in Namibia intensified, A petition to amend the law to increase access to legal abortion in Namibia has attracted over 60 000 signatures by September 2020.14 The authors of the petition proposed that the right to access legal abortion should be accompanied by education relating to sexual health and reproductive rights to prevent unwanted pregnancies and baby dumping.15 Attempts to liberalise the law on abortion have been met with strong opposition from religious groups and some women’s groups and politicians.

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