GABORONE, Botswana, May 5, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An editorial in the Botswana Gazette this week, notes that there has been a mass escalation by international NGOs pushing to legalise abortion in answer to the country’s many woes. The call has been taken up by the media and some members of government, including Assistant Minister of Local Government Botlhogile Tshireletso who has called on the government to consider complete legalisation.

The Penal Code makes abortion a crime except in cases of pregnancy under 16 weeks gestation, where the pregnancy is the result of rape, “defilement” or incest; the pregnancy “puts the life of the mother at risk or may cause harm to her physical or mental health” or in cases where the “unborn child would suffer or later develop physical or mental abnormality. Abortions for rape, incest or “foetal impairment” must be approved in writing by two doctors and all abortions must be carried out in government-approved hospitals or specialty “clinics”. Officially, only abortions for “social and economic reasons” or abortions “on request” are disallowed under the law.

Despite these sweeping exceptions, including the notorious “mental health” exception that has opened the door to virtual abortion on demand in many western countries, international organisations and some local politicians are agitating for the removal of all restrictions.

The May 2nd Gazette editorial said, “The law has made it highly difficult for women to terminate pregnancy. This has meant that women have to resort to street abortion to assert their reproductive rights and make a deliberate decision whether or not to keep the pregnancy. 

“The restrictive criteria for legal abortions and the continued criminalisation of abortion pushes women into unsafe abortions and early deaths,” the editorial said. As long as abortion remains in the penal code, the editor complains, it will not be recognised as “a right”.

In February this year, Minister Tshireletso, responding to the budget speech, called upon government to legalise abortion, saying, “Just recently, we read about six heads of infants which were found in a bucket. In another incident we heard about how dogs dug out the head of a dumped fetus.

“These things are worrisome. They are the works of backyard abortions. I therefore call on government to make abortion legal so that desperate pregnant women can have access to safer, legal and decent abortions.”

In 2011, Minister Tshireletso also supported a call from a former president of Botswana to legalise prostitution, that she called “sex work,” saying that sex workers “are not only those we call ‘ladies of the night.”

“I have male friends who tell me where they buy. So let’s decriminalise sex work to protect these people who get cheated because they do not have anywhere to go for help.”

Botswana is still a majority Christian country, with over 70 per cent of its population belonging to the various denominations, and its Christian leadership has spoken out against this latest call for legalisation. Pastor Biggie Butale, head of the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana, said “abortion is absolute murder,” and that the churches will never accept it.

“Such an act is morally inadmissible, because it is murder; the right to life underlies all other rights and we can never support murder of innocent unborn babies that cannot retaliate,” Butale said. “As the church we unite in the defense of life, repudiating any attempts to legalize abortion in our country.

Butale warned of dire consequences if Botswana legalises abortion, saying it dehumanises.

Botswana is a country beset with problems related to health, infant and maternal mortality, and uncontrolled extramarital sexual activity, and as such is a special target of international population control groups. The State Department of the US note that HIV is mainly spread through heterosexual contact, and that the number of young girls who are infected far outstrips the number of young men.

Although average life expectancy is rising, it still lags far behind developed countries, with 2012 statistics showing 56.93 years for men, and 54.51 years for women – an improvement on the 48 years recorded for women in 1995-2000.

All observers agree that the most significant factor in the statistics is the rate of AIDS/HIV infection which is believed to be the second highest in the world in Botswana, with 24.8 per cent of the adult population being infected. The US State Department estimated in 2009 that there were 93,000 orphans due to AIDS in Botswana.

The population is young, with a median age of about 22 years for men and women, and only a tiny percentage (3.9) of the population surviving past age 65. In addition to AIDS, the rates of death from other infectious diseases is high, including bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever and malaria.

Paradoxically, these woes come at a time when Botswana’s economy is growing, despite the global economic crisis. In the last ten years, the country has moved from being one of the poorest in the world to being a middle-income country, though it still relies heavily on its single-export trade of diamonds. Despite recent growth, Botswana has an unofficial unemployment rate of nearly 40 per cent, with the spectre of depopulation from AIDS a constant threat to future economic prospects.

In the 1974 document issued by the US National Security Council, National Security Study Memorandum 200, Botswana was listed among the Sub-Saharan African “least developed countries” whose population growth was considered problematic. The Memorandum held that population growth in these countries is a risk to U.S. concerns abroad. The Memorandum was adopted as official policy in 1975, and led to the pairing of overseas aid to developing countries with the mandating of population control measures, including the promotion of artificial contraception.