One of the things about advocacy work that can be frustrating is that goals aren’t always achieved quickly. It often can take many months or even years of sustained work to accomplish your objective. There may be tiny victories along the way, but you often have to stay in it for the long haul to see the reform you want happen.
Mozambique just became a primary example of how advocacy works over the long term. On December 18th, the president signed a bill into law allowing for abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if the pregnancy could cause physical, psychological, or mental harm, extending this period to 16 weeks in cases of rape, and 24 weeks in cases of severe fetal abnormality.
This victory comes after more than 10 years of efforts by advocates in Mozambique to change abortion laws in the country. Until last month, abortion was only allowed in Mozambique if a woman’s life or health was endangered. This law dates back to the 1800s, when the country was under Portuguese rule.
The previous highly restrictive law led to a high number of unsafe abortions in Mozambique, which in turn led to a high maternal mortality rate. In 2013, the rate was 480 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. It’s estimated that 11 percent of these deaths were caused by unsafe abortion. (In reality, deaths due to unsafe abortion are probably much higher in Mozambique, as estimates are often lower due to stigma associated with abortion, and the percentage is based on a study from one health facility. As the study was done at a central hospital in Maputo, women who go to other health facilities, live in rural areas, or never make it to a facility were not counted.)
In 1987, Mozambique’s Minister of Health, Dr. Pascal Mocumbi, issued a directive that hospitals had to provide safe abortions on-demand. However, since the procedure was still criminalized under the penal code, many health workers and managers at hospitals refused to provide the service.
So advocates across multiple sectors in Mozambique—civil society, the Ministry of Health, and doctors—worked together for well over a decade to liberalize the abortion law and provide women with more complete reproductive rights.
The new law is a huge win for advocates in Mozambique and advocates for reproductive health across the world. While this should be widely celebrated, work remains on ensuring the law is implemented. This includes training health workers on abortion procedures; monitoring procedures performed; ensuring equipment and supplies are delivered to each health facility that provides abortions; ensuring payments are made on time to health workers for their work; and making sure that every woman and girl in Mozambique knows about the change in the law and the legal rights she now enjoys.