KIGALI, April 13, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Legislation being considered in Rwanda may throw open the door to more permissive abortion regulations in a country where it is currently limited to situations in which the mother’s life or health is at risk.

An amended penal code that has been stalled in the Rwandan Parliament for three years was approved by the Chamber of Deputies last Wednesday.  According to the New Times, a Rwandan news service, the revised code maintains the current exemption and also permits abortion in cases of rape, incest, forced marriage, or when the “health of the unborn baby” is in question.

The country had recently rejected similar language in the 2003 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, known as the Maputo Protocol.  Rwanda signed the Protocol but made a reservation for a section which condoned abortion in cases of rape, incest, or maternal or fetal health concerns.

As the Senate prepares to consider the amended penal code, a Presidential Order lifting this reservation has reportedly been approved by the cabinet and now will also go before the Parliament.

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A statement issued by the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues (PNCIUS), a U.S. based pro-life organization, said that the Rwandan Parliament and Paul Kagame, the country’s president, appear to be “bowing to western pro-abortion pressure” by lifting the reservation and amending the penal code.

“Rwanda recognized the need to protect their unborn children from the violence of abortion when they signed the treaty and they issued the reservation,” PNCIUS Director Marie Smith told LifeSiteNews in an interview, adding that her organization was “discouraged” by the recent developments.

The proposals have also sparked intense debate within the country, with seven pro-life female lawmakers reportedly abstaining from the vote in protest over the fact that there is any accommodation for abortion in Rwandan law to begin with.

Thadee Karekezi, Executive Secretary of The Civil Society Platform, a non-profit organization in Rwanda, pointed out in an interview with the New Times the inconsistency of the proposed revision with other Rwandan laws, including one which forbids the death penalty.

“Rwanda cannot be the same country that abolished the death penalty, reduced punishments for Genocide convicts, and then gives the death sentence to the innocent ones,” Karekezi said

Others, however, are claiming that the revision doesn’t go far enough.

In comments to the New Times, Chantal Umuhoza, the Coordinator of Safe Abortion Action Fund, advocated an abolishment of all “conditions and restrictions” on abortion, and objected to a provision that would remain in the revised code requiring a woman to obtain a court order permitting her to have an abortion.

The country’s religious leaders also weighed in at a press conference earlier this week, condemning abortion and expressing concern over a possible lack of respect for the democratic process. Pastor Charles Mugisha of New Life Bible Church called for a referendum that would “let the public decide,” and Anglican Church Archbishop, Rt. Rev. Onesphore Rwaje reminded legislators that since Rwanda is a democratic nation, “views from the public should be heard.”

Bishop Simaragde Mbonyitege, of the Catholic Diocese of Kabgayi noted that abortion was equivalent to killing “in every aspect, under every condition” and called on the Church to be a “voice of the voiceless.”

Fueling the controversy is a recently released report which claims that 60,000 abortions occur each year in Rwanda, and that an estimated 40% of those abortions “lead to complications requiring treatment.” The report, “Abortion Incidence and Post-Abortion Care in Rwanda,” was co-authored by researchers from the National University of Rwanda, the Rwanda Ministry of Health, and the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S. based organization with ties to Planned Parenthood. It also claims that a third of those who had a complication following an abortion did not obtain treatment.

Proponents of liberalizing Rwanda’s abortion laws have used the report to argue that unsafe abortions are rampant in the country, and that abortion would be safer for the woman if it were legal.

According to PNCIUS however, the report needs to be “analyzed carefully,” since it “contrasts sharply” with a statement from the UN Population Data Bank Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division which says that “abortion is not reported to be widespread” in Rwanda.