Once approved by Cabinet, the next step is for the bill to be presented to parliament, during the October sitting, where it needs to pass a two thirds majority to pass and become law. The new bill will permit abortion on a range of grounds, including physical and mental health up to twelve-weeks, pregnancy resulting from rape, incest or defilement, and where there is fetal malformation. Malawi has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with an estimated 18% of this attributed to unsafe abortion. Once passed and operationalised this law will transform women's lives.
The law reform process in Malawi began in earnest in 2014 and has been at times slow and weathered several general elections. Banja la Mtsogolo (BLM), Marie Stopes International's programme in Malawi, has been working with the Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe abortion (COPUA) to support them with strategic planning, the delivery of Values Clarification and Action Training (VCAT) for traditional leaders and religious leaders, and have worked with the media to shift the national debate on a woman's right to choose.
At the end of 2019, BLM hosted a national delegation including Ministry of Health Officials, a Member of Parliament and former Health Minister, and a COPUA Chair to attend the "Removing Restrictions to Safe Abortion Care" meeting. The meeting was convened by MSI, UNFPA, and FIGO and held on the fringes of the ICPD+25 meeting in Nairobi. The team developed a national plan, and in 2020 this was domesticated with a wider group of advocates and influencers in Malawi.
A group of committed MPs took the draft bill drafted by the Law Reform Commission in 2016 and held a retreat in May to turn the Draft bill into a bill and Cabinet paper, which will be approved before the end of the month.
Simeon Thodi, the Policy and Advocacy lead in BLM said "It is very exciting to see such a huge milestone in our abortion law reform advocacy. This bill has met resistance since 2016 when Ministry of Health attempted to take it to cabinet. Religious leaders, traditional leaders, influential young people, and the media have spoken and written against the bill. But with hard work, organisation, and networking, we have managed, together with our partners in COPUA, to implement strategic interventions through VCATs and media advocacy to bring influential religious, traditional, and political leaders on board with the law reform agenda".
BLM and the COPUA board are now working together to fine-tune the plan developed in Nairobi to reflect these new developments, develop advocacy briefs, and map Parliamentarians to identify and start to mobilise champions in preparation for the forthcoming vote.