Amid “stiff resistance from powerful religious groups”, the bill has had many false starts. Political parties are reportedly reluctant to promote it. Some hoped it would be debated in parliament in 2020, but this didn’t happen.
An independent MP – Matthews Ngwale, a medical doctor who heads parliament’s health committee – is now pushing it as a private member’s bill. However, on 11 March, MPs voted against tabling the bill for discussion – while young people stood outside the building in a show of support for it.
Ngwale told openDemocracy that he is not giving up on the bill, but he has not yet decided when he will bring it back to parliament.
He called on “the women who are feeling the pain” to “come out” and support the bill. “We have a very big problem,” Ngwale told openDemocracy. “Many women and girls are dying from unsafe abortion.”
When the draft bill was released in 2016, EMC told people to take to the streets and “tell the world to stop imposing foreign cultures on Malawi”.
“This is a health issue,” insisted Immaculate Maluza, president of Malawi’s Women Lawyers Association, but “most opposition is on religious and moral grounds, claiming this [bill] is a Western thing.”
Perhaps because of this anti-Western attitude, Malawian opponents of abortion reform have downplayed their own relationships to large and powerful foreign groups.
“We don’t have money for this campaign, that’s why we don’t have a team of journalists like the pro-choice campaigners,” said Reverend Francis Mkandawire, secretary general of the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), an umbrella organisation for evangelical churches in the country.
“We have just been reaching out to the MPs who decide to be on our side because they subscribe to honesty,” he told openDemocracy.
In 2017, the EAM and the ECM co-hosted a conference in Malawi of the ultra-conservative World Congress of Families (WCF). This global network of US, Russian and other international activists has many ties to Europe’s far right.
This event’s theme was “cultural colonisation” via legal abortion and same-sex marriage. WCF president Brian Brown, from the US, gave a speech accusing the Obama administration of using aid money to force Malawi to accept legal abortion.
In 2020, Human Life International, another US-based group, wrote a letter to its supporters saying “your media campaign smashed an abortion bill in Malawi” and requesting more donations to “arm Malawi”.
This letter said that the group’s local representative, a Malawian priest, heard that the bill was coming and asked for extra money for a media campaign against it. “Your TV and radio programs kept Malawi pro-life,” it boasted.
The WCF also claimed credit for defeating the bill in a 2020 newsletter to its supporters, while the Spain-based group CitizenGo (a WCF partner) also sponsored an anti-abortion rally in Malawi last year.
The USCCB told openDemocracy that it awarded the $30,000 grant to the episcopal conference of Malawi, “based on a request they made to help fund a project that would form lay leaders for the Catholic church in the region.”Print