Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Malawi: Legal Action Against Government on Abortion

(May 4, 2009) It was reported on April 29, 2009, that Women in Law in Southern Africa-Malawi (WILSA-Malawi), a women's rights group in Malawi, is bringing a legal action against the Malawian government for prohibiting women from access to safe abortions. According to Seodi White, WILSA-Malawi's executive director, forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy is an intrusion on her body. Citing the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), White argued that denial of a medical procedure that only women need, such as abortion, is a form of discrimination. White stated that:

Access to legal and safe abortion services is essential to the protection of women's rights to non-discrimination and equality. Where women are compelled to continue unwanted pregnancies, it puts them at a disadvantage, because abortion is a medical procedure that only women need.

White also argued that the laws currently in place in Malawi put women's health and life in danger by forcing them to look for unsafe alternatives in traditional healers and illegal clinics. (Pilirani Semu-Banda, Women's Group Sues Govt. over Abortion Rights, IPS, Apr. 29, 2009, available at According to Malawi's government statistics, 30% of maternal deaths are caused by abortion, and Malawi's maternal mortality is the highest in Africa next to Sierra Leone. (Id.)

The current Malawi Penal Code imposes harsh penalties on individuals who perform abortion procedures on their person or the persons of others and on those who facilitate the procedures. Administering an abortion for another person is a felony punishable, on conviction, with 14 years of imprisonment. Administering or allowing others to administer an abortion procedure on one's own person is a felony punishable, on conviction, by seven years of imprisonment. Intentionally supplying drugs or instruments for administering an abortion is also a felony, punishable by three years of imprisonment. (Penal Code, 2 LAWS OF MALAWI, Cap. 7:01 (2003) (official source).)