Reproductive health services provider Marie Stopes has defended itself following uproar on its provision of abortion services.
The organisation’s social media accounts are replete with messages that require no Einstein to decode on provision of abortion services as an option to Kenyan women.
Even on its website, the message is clear. On the “what we do” section, it says it helps “women to have children by choice, not chance”.
“We do this by providing contraception and safe abortion to women in urban and rural communities all over the world,” it says.
And its recent actions in Kitui County, where one of its staff visited a Catholic-sponsored secondary school on October 11 to promote family planning, have drawn so much ire that a civil society now wants the Health ministry to de-register Marie Stopes altogether.
But Marie Stopes insists it committed no wrong when the team member visited Archbishop Boniface Lele Secondary School on October 11.
Its country director for Kenya, Ms Dana Tilson, told the Nation that the team member only gave a talk at the school on reproductive health. “The girls accessed the (family planning) services at a clinic outside the school as they needed to inquire more,” she said.
And on the provision of abortion services, which appears to be in contravention of the Constitution, Ms Tilson said they were abiding by the law.
“The Kenyan Constitution states that safe termination of pregnancy is allowed if in the opinion of a health care provider, the woman’s health is at risk because of the pregnancy or the life of the woman is in danger,” she said.
She added: “Marie Stopes Kenya offers pregnancy crisis counselling and post-abortion care with the aim of saving the woman and promoting positive health outcomes,” she said.
However, the numerous posts on social media appear to provide abortion as an option to everyone.
For instance, one Facebook image posted on August 26 has a message: “Hata zile time P2 imefail, don’t stress, we gatchu (even if P2 contraceptives fail, don’t get stressed)”.
Article 26 of the Constitution says abortion is not permitted unless there is need for emergency treatment or as allowed by any other written law.
On the social media posts on abortion, Ms Tilson said they were just ice-breakers. “Through the social media posts, we have opened conversations on the dangers of unsafe abortion with the hope that we can reverse the trend on this disturbingly high mortality rate among women and girls through offering the much-needed information and support,” she said.
She noted that unsafe abortions lead to about 2,600 deaths of women and girls in Kenya annually. “Kenya’s estimate of 266 deaths per 100,000 unsafe abortions indicates high maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion, all of which are preventable deaths and most can be avoided through improved access to family planning,” she said.
Regarding the Kitui incident, which is currently being investigated by Education ministry officials and local administrators of the Catholic Church, Marie Stopes gave the Sunday Nation its version of events.
“It is true that one of our team members visited the school to give a school health talk including topics on HIV, STIs, reproductive health and teen pregnancy prevention. This was a planned visit, approved by the school administration,” said the firm’s communication team in a statement.
“The session was followed by individual conversations with students who had further questions about family planning. It is categorically untrue that any student was given contraception during this session,” it added.
Marie Stopes notes that it is working with several counties “in implementing school health programmes and we take our duty of care very seriously”.
“According to the Adolescent Reproductive Health Policy launched by the Ministry of Health in 2015, adolescents 10-19 years have the right to access contraceptives,” said Ms Tilson.
Advocacy group CitizenGo has, in a petition delivered to Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu, asked him to cancel Marie Stopes’ licence.
The petition has been signed by more than 3,500 people.
In reaction to the petition, Ms Tilson said: “Everyone has a right to express themselves but it would be appropriate to establish the facts.”