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:
Beware of misleading statistics
Former Namibian Minister of Health and Social Services Dr Bernard Haufiku stated at one stage that over 7 000 women and girls had accessed health services with abortion-related complications in 2016.12 However, a closer examination of the statistics showed that this number actually referred mostly to “spontaneous abortions” (miscarriages)
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.
Legal Assistance Centre stance on abortion
The Legal Assistance Centre supports law reform which would expand freedom of choice in respect of abortion in support of women’s reproductive rights. Although some of our staff members oppose abortion on moral or religious grounds, we believe that the decision is a matter of personal conscience which should not be mandated by the law in the absence of any scientific or human rights-based consensus on the issue. Furthermore, purely religious views cannot be imposed on the public by law in a secular state like Namibia. We advocate that increased scope to decide on whether or not to have an abortion should be coupled with:
- improved access to family planning measures for girls and women of all ages;
- continued action to prevent gender-based violence and gender inequality which can lead to unwanted pregnancies; and
- the provision of information before a decision on abortion is made since many people do not know about options such as foster care, adoption, or the mechanisms they can use to secure financial support from the father or the State.