Abortion in Uganda

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Abortion in Uganda is illegal unless performed by a licensed medical doctor who following a clinical assessment and expert opinion believes that pregnancy places the woman's life at risk.[1][2] The Ugandan Ministry of Health in the Annual Health Sector Performance Report of 2017-2018 estimates that as of 2018, 5.3% of all maternal deaths result from abortion complications [3]. This is aggravated by legal, socioeconomic, and geographical barriers to safe abortion, which compel women to use unsafe abortion methods and deter them from seeking post-abortion medical care.[4][5] Contraception is not commonly used, leading to Uganda’s need for family planning.[6]

Laws on women's sexual reproduction and abortion[edit]

The legal status of abortion in Uganda is unclear because it provides for some exceptions while criminalizing the procedure in most cases. The Ugandan Constitution, in Article 22, item 2 states: "No person has the right to terminate the life of an unborn child except as may be authorised by law."[7] However, what is authorized by law remains poorly understood.

The Penal Code of 1950, Article 141 on "Attempts to procure abortion" states:

Any person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means, commits a felony and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.[8]

Article 142 lays out a punishment of seven years for an attempt to procure a miscarriage.

Nonetheless, under other provisions of the Penal Code an abortion may be performed to save the life of a pregnant woman. Section 217 of the Code provides that a person is not criminally responsible for performing in good faith and with reasonable care and skill a surgical operation upon an unborn child for the preservation of the mother’s life if the performance of the operation is reasonable, having regard to the patient’s state at the time and to all the circumstances of the case. In addition, Section 205 of the Code provides that no person shall be guilty of the offence of causing by willful act a child to die before it has an independent existence from its mother if the act was carried out in good faith for the purpose of preserving the mother’s life.

Uganda, like a number of Commonwealth countries, whose legal systems are based the English common law, follows the holding of the 1938 English Rex v. Bourne decision in determining whether an abortion performed for health reasons is lawful. In the Bourne decision, a physician was acquitted of the offence of performing an abortion in the case of a woman who had been raped. The court ruled that the abortion was lawful because it had been performed to prevent the woman from becoming “a physical and mental wreck”, thus setting a precedent for future abortion cases performed on the grounds of preserving the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health. The liberalization and legality of abortion in Uganda has been complicated by the use of rape as a weapon of war and terror by rebel groups in the region."[9]

In Uganda, an abortion is permitted to save a woman's life, preserve the physical health of the woman, and to preserve the mental health of the woman. An abortion is not permitted in terms of rape or incest, fetal impairment, economic or social reasons, or by request. A legal abortion has to be performed by a licensed and registered physician with the consent of two physicians prior to the medical procedure.[9]

Government family planning[edit]

In 1988, the Ugandan government launched a comprehensive program in response to the country's high fertility and growth rates, which adversely affected per capita incomes and threatened the sustainability of social services. The major goal was to increase the contraceptive rate from 5 percent to 20 percent by 2000. The services for birth control in Uganda are now accessible at clinics and are operated by the Family Planning Association of Uganda. Contraceptives like condoms helped to reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS in Uganda, but there are still a significant number of unwanted pregnancies leading to abortion.[9]

There was direct support provided in the government's policy on contraceptive use, and since 1995, 8 percent of married women aged 15 to 49 use contraception. The total fertility rate from 1995 to 2000 was 7.1, and the age specific fertility rate per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 from 1995 to 2000 was 180. As of 2018, Uganda's total fertility rate stands at 5.5 children born per 1,000 women.[10] The government has shown a lot of concern for the morbidity and mortality resulting from induced abortion, but there has been a number of complications in childbearing and child birth. In Uganda, the female life expectancy at birth from 1995 to 2000 was 40.4 percent.[9]

Post-abortion care[edit]

The Ministry of Health in Uganda included the prevention and management of unsafe abortions as a core component of Sexual and Reproductive Health. [11] In Uganda, nine out of ten, or 89 percent, of healthcare facilities with the capacity to provide post-abortion care treat post-abortion complications. [12] According to Uganda's Minister of State for Health in-charge of General Duties, Sarah Opendi, an annual loss of 25 billion Uganda shillings occurred as a result of post-abortion care and treatment from unsafe abortions. [13]


Movements such as Pro-Life Uganda (Pro-Life Uganda) and Pro-Choice Uganda (Pro Abortion) fight for their belief that either a woman has the right to choose what happens to her and her body (Pro-Choice Uganda), or the fetus' life is sacred and everyone deserves to live (Pro-Life Uganda).[14] There was a movement that took place that involved the Pro-Life organization, Christian founded anti-abortion that advocates against abortion. This group was joined by 100 delegates from the U.S., United Kingdom, Uganda and Spain in a three-day workshop to help the young women of Uganda understand the preciousness of life, and to counsel the young women against the practice of abortion.[15]


  1. ^ "HEALTH SECTOR DEVELOPMENT PLAN 2015/16 - 2019/20" (PDF).
  2. ^ Moore, Ann M.; Kibombo, Richard; Cats-Baril, Deva (2014). "Ugandan opinion-leaders' knowledge and perceptions of unsafe abortion". Health Policy and Planning. 29 (7): 893–901. doi:10.1093/heapol/czt070. PMID 24064047.
  3. ^ "Annual Health Sector Performance Report 2017/18 | Ministry of Health Knowledge Management Portal". library.health.go.ug. Retrieved 2019-07-23.
  4. ^ Abortion in Uganda. (2013). Retrieved June 16, 2016, from https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/abortion-uganda#6
  5. ^ Olson, Rose Mckeon; Kamurari, Solomon (2017). "Barriers to safe abortion access: Uterine rupture as complication of unsafe abortion in a Ugandan girl". BMJ Case Reports. 2017: bcr-2017–222360. doi:10.1136/bcr-2017-222360. PMID 29054903.
  6. ^ Migiro, Katy (21 November 2013). "Uganda women unable to get contraception, dying from unsafe abortions". Thomas Reuters Foundation.
  7. ^ Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995. http://www.parliament.go.ug/new/images/stories/constitution/Constitution_of_Uganda_1995.pdf
  8. ^ The Penal Code Act. Chapter 120. http://www.wipo.int/wipolex/en/text.jsp?file_id=170005 (WIPO Lex)
  9. ^ a b c d "Population Policy Data Bank." United Nations. The Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariay, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
  10. ^ "Fertility rate, total (births per woman) | Data". data.worldbank.org. Retrieved 2019-09-05.
  11. ^ "The National Policy Guidelines and Service Standards for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights" (PDF). Ministry of Health. 2006.
  12. ^ "Abortion and Postabortion Care in Uganda" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Uganda loses sh25b in post-abortion care-Opendi". www.newvision.co.ug. Retrieved 2019-07-24.
  14. ^ "Pro Life Uganda." Pro Life Uganda. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
  15. ^ Lukwago, Juliet (1 September 2013). "Uganda: World Workshop Against Abortion Opens At Namugongo". AllAfrica.com.