Kenyan Bishops Stridently Oppose Abortion and Sex Education Bills Amid Teen Pregnancy Spike

IN THE AFTERMATH OF A Kenyan Health Information Systems Survey that revealed “152,829 teenagers aged between 10 and 19 have been impregnated” from the onset of Kenya’s COVID-19 lockdown up to June of this year, Catholic bishops in the country have stepped forward to vehemently oppose abortion and sex education reform legislation. On June 21, at the end of a televised mass during which their remarks were read aloud, the bishops stated that they were “totally opposed to those trying to introduce Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) in schools as a way of curbing teen pregnancies.”

Almost simultaneously, these bishops declaimed against abortion provisions provided in the same bill, Reproductive Health Bill 2019, which entered the upper parliament of Kenya in July. In addition to CSE, the proposed legislation also seeks to loosen restrictions for access to abortion. In a letter seen by some observers as a warning shot to Catholic Members of Parliament, the bishops stated that provisions of the bill represent a “foreign agenda,” the wording of which the bishops claim is intentionally vague, implying a direct substitution of abortion for talk of sexual and reproductive rights.
Bishop Philip Anyolo, chair of the Kenyan Conference of Catholic Bishops, publicly stated that the purported social benefits of the bill are not driven by public opinion. “It is sexual rights activists,” he accused, “who are implementing sexuality programmes for children who will determine the definition of  ‘age appropriate’ [education], not the policymakers who [mistakenly] believe that the use of the term will protect children.”

With schools shuttered by COVID-19 and the subsequent teen pregnancy boom; the preexisting high rate of illegally obtained, frequently dangerous, abortions; and the high number of post-birth infanticides across Kenya, the bishops’ remarks stand in direct opposition to the undeniable reality of a series of intersecting health crises. At present, the current constitution of Kenya permits abortion only in the event that carrying to term threatens the life of the mother. The proposed Reproductive Health Bill 2019 advocates family planning services, surrogacy, legal and safe abortion and comprehensive sex education.

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