After the fall of Roe, emboldened religious conservatives lobby to restrict abortion in Africa

Women pass a sticker advertising abortion pills on a sidewalk on June 28 in Johannesburg. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Nowhere in the world has a higher rate of unsafe abortions or unintended pregnancies than sub-Saharan Africa, where women often face scorn for becoming pregnant before marriage.

Efforts to legalize and make abortions safer in Africa were shaken when the U.S. Supreme Court ended the national right to an abortion a year ago. Within days, Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio declared that his government would decriminalize abortion “at a time when sexual and reproductive health rights for women are being either overturned or threatened.”

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But some U.S.-based organizations active in Africa were emboldened, especially in largely Christian countries. One is Family Watch International, a nonprofit Christian conservative organization whose anti-LGBTQ+ stance, anti-abortion activities and “intense focus on Africa” led to its designation as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In April, Family Watch International helped to develop a “family values and sovereignty” meeting at Uganda’s presidential offices with lawmakers and other delegates from more than 20 African countries. The organization’s Africa director also is advocating for his country, Ethiopia, to revoke a 2005 law that expanded abortion access and dramatically reduced maternal mortality.

“It’s kind of like the gloves are off,” Sarah Shaw, head of advocacy at U.K.-based MSI Reproductive Choices, an international provider of reproductive health services, said in an interview.

In a September speech to the African Bar Association, the president of Family Watch International, Sharon Slater, alleged that donor countries were attempting a “sexual social recolonization of Africa” by smuggling in legal abortion along with sex education and LGBTQ+ rights.

“Sexual rights activists know if they can capture the hearts and minds of Africa’s children and indoctrinate and sexualize them, they will capture the future lawyers, teachers, judges, politicians, presidents, vice presidents and more, and thus they will capture the very heart of Africa,” Slater claimed.

Her speech in Malawi was attended by the country’s president, a former leader of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God movement.

After lobbying lawmakers in the southern African nation not to consider a bill that would have allowed abortion under certain circumstances, the U.S.-based Catholic group Human Life International told its supporters in March that “thanks to you, Malawi is safe from legal abortion.”

The African Union two decades ago recognized the right to abortion in cases of rape and incest or when the life of the mother or fetus is endangered or the mother’s mental or physical health is at risk.

African experts say events in the U.S. could reverse gains in the availability of safe abortion procedures, especially since the U.S. government is the largest global donor of international reproductive health assistance.

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