Why Bishops in Kenya are Contesting Reproductive Healthcare Bill in Parliament

Some activists protest against abortion in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

Bishops in Kenya have, in a collective letter addressed to “Catholic Members of Parliament (MPs) and all Legislators of good-will”, explained why they are opposed to the Reproductive Healthcare Bill 2019.

“We, the Catholic Bishops of Kenya, are aware that a proposal to legalize abortion has been presented in parliament,” the members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) begin their June 23 letter in which they poke holes in the content of the Bill based on “our faith and our African cultural background.”

The Bishops contest the Bill because “it goes against the teaching of the Gospel. It is a Bill against the Constitution, against the right to life and against the protection of children and of the family.”

“As Bishops we respond to our belief that regards abortion as the intentional killing of a human life,” they say in their two-page collective letter signed by KCCB Chairman, Archbishop Philip Anyolo,

They also express their concerns about the wording of the Bill which they say is “deliberately ambiguous.”


“It (Bill) speaks of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, when in fact it simply wishes to introduce in Kenya unhealthy practices,” they say and clarify their contestation, “In the past decades, these words have been redefined by various UN agencies to encompass controversial sexual and abortion rights, including for young children.”

The Bishops also contest the meaning given by the Bill to "pregnancy" as "the presence of a foetus in the womb," a definition they say when read along with  the proposed law’s provisions on termination of pregnancy “fly in the face” of Article 26(1) and (2) of the country’s  Constitution, which guarantees every person the right to life and hold that the life of a person begins at conception.

The provisions in the Bill amplify the ambiguity of Article 26(4) of the Kenyan Constitution, which allows for abortion only in a medical emergency, a clause that was highly contested in the pre-referendum phase on the Constitution in 2010, the Catholic Church leaders recall.

The Bill’s call for the Ministry of Education to "integrate into the education syllabus age appropriate information on reproductive health” is also contested.

According to the Bishops, the term “age appropriate” is no longer the “once effective modifier that served to protect children from exposure to harmful and explicit sexuality education.”

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The term “age appropriate” has become the most effective strategy used by sexual rights activists to get comprehensive sexuality adopted in policy and legislation, they underscore.

“It is these sexual rights activists who are implementing sexuality programs for children who will determine the definition of "age appropriate," not the policy makers who believe that the use of the term will protect children,” the Bishops caution in their June 23 letter to Catholic MPs in Kenya.

They see the Bill as a way of fostering a foreign agenda, which insists that preventing unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions require States to adopt policy measures that allow, among other things, access to contraceptives, abortion services, and comprehensive sexuality education.

On the Bill’s provision to have women terminate “unwanted pregnancies,” the Prelates in Kenya propose a proactive approach that focuses on how to prevent the pregnancies from happening through “positive means such as mentorship and behavior change programs, life skills and human sexuality programs.”

The programs, the Bishops say, will include a closer attention to social issues that lead to poverty, illness, fornication, peer pressure and uneasiness among people in view of addressing them. 


“We can identify ways to educate our youth about life and the fundamental choices regarding family life. We can support those structures that already now give shelter and protection to vulnerable minors and women,” the Bishops promise.

The Bishops express the hope that Kenyan MPs will interpret the will of the citizens of the East African nation who “want to promote life, not death; the institution of marriage not same-sex unions.” 

They remind the Catholic legislators that “the teaching of the Church on this matter (abortion) has never wavered; the unborn is human life and its termination is homicide” and implore them “to reflect upon the consequences this Bill will have on the moral fabric of the Nation.”

“We are certain you will consider our views, and the views of millions of Kenyans, and make the right choice,” the Bishops tell Kenyan MPs.

The Bill is a slight variation of the Reproductive Health Care Bill 2014, which was strongly opposed by education sector stakeholders among them, the then country’s Education Cabinet Secretary, Jacob Kaimenyi and teachers’ unions in Kenya.

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In a move seen as a response to the Bishops’ letter, Catholic MPs in Kenya presented a petition against the Bill to the Speaker of the country’s Senate, Kenneth Lusaka Thursday, June 25.

In an interview with ACI Africa June 25, the Chairman of Catholic Members of Parliament, Chris Wamalwa noted that the Bill was “erroneously” passed in the Senate without the public participation of stakeholders as required by Article 118 of the country’s constitution.

“The Bill must come to the National Assembly; we shall kill it there,” the Chair of Catholic MPs in Kenya added.