March 8, 2010
Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Clinton:
As President of the Center for Reproductive Rights, I write to express my concern about proposed language in Kenya's draft constitution that would threaten the health rights of Kenyan women and girls. The Center, a New York-based international human rights organization, has conducted extensive fact-finding on the subject of reproductive health and services in Kenya.
As noted in your statement of December 1, 2009, the Kenyan constitutional reform process is an opportunity to develop "a solid foundation for a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future" in which the "interests of all" are protected. The harmonized draft constitution tabled before the National Assembly on March 2 makes great strides towards those ends, affirming equal rights for married women, equal parental responsibility, and the right to reproductive health care, as well as numerous other international human rights and obligations. At the same time, it includes a highly restrictive abortion provision and defines life as beginning at conception. In order to ensure that Kenya's new constitution recognizes and protects the basic rights of women, it is imperative that attention be called to the current debate on this language and the harmful impact it could have on Kenyan women and families.
Tasked with drafting the new constitution, the Committee of Experts produced an initial draft in November 2009 that did not contain any language concerning abortion or the definition of when life begins. The Parliamentary Select Committee then reviewed the draft and inserted highly restrictive abortion language, along with a provision defining life as beginning at conception. Thereafter, the Committee of Experts attempted to mitigate the damage by modifying the abortion provision to be less restrictive. This is how the draft currently stands, and the National Assembly now has until the end of March to amend it or send it to a national referendum.
The outcome of this debate remains uncertain, and it is on the agenda for discussion during the March 12-14 parliamentary retreat. President Kibaki recently commented publicly on the issue when, on February 27, he announced that Members of Parliament would not pass a draft constitution that supports abortion. Given the potential for further amendment and the danger that even more restrictive language could be included in the final draft that goes to referendum, timely action is needed.
Kenya's abortion law is already one of the most restrictive in the world. As detailed in the Center for Reproductive Rights\' March 2010 report, In Harm's Way: The Impact of Kenya's Restrictive Abortion Law, Kenya's abortion fatality rates are significantly higher than in the African region as a whole, and more than nine times higher than in developed regions. Unsafe abortion accounts for 35% of Kenya's maternal mortality rate. At least 2,600 women die as a result of unsafe abortions and an additional 21,000 are hospitalized with abortion-related complications every year. These numbers do not account for women who never visit a health facility or for whom a cause of death is not recorded. (The full report is available online at: //www.reproductiverights.org/en/document/in-harms-way-download-the-report )
Kenya is on the brink of an historical moment, which provides the opportunity to effect lasting change through the enshrinement of democratic principles and the affirmation of basic rights. Accordingly, I urge you to issue a statement encouraging the Kenyan government to ensure that the new constitution does not undermine access to safe and legal abortion services, which are crucial to protecting women's basic rights.