Tuesday 22 May saw over fifty women crowding into the public gallery of Parliament because the Criminal Code Amendment Bill was on the Order Paper. This Bill, which will for the first time allow some women the right to abortion, even if under very restrictive conditions, had passed its First Reading stage the previous Tuesday. The presence of representatives of the Common Front in Favour of the New Abortion Law signified the determination of women to continue the fight to end the draconian, repressive law against all abortion that has remained intact since colonial times. Although many of the organizations in the Common Front consider the Bill very minimalist, there is consensus that this new law will have a double effect. Firstly it will decriminalize abortion in the four distinct kinds of cases listed in the law, that is to say when the women’s life is threatened, when her physical or mental health are seriously theatened, when there is grave foetal abnormality, and when, within 14 weeks, there is an unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape, incest or statutory rape. Even then, it is only specialist medical practitioners who can take the decision together with their patient, and only in an institution that the State has already recognised. Secondly, although all other abortions will remain illegal under the same draconian colonial law with up to 10 years penal servitude, the new law will have the effect of making it easier for women who fall ill after badly done abortions to present at the hospital for care; the breech of the total taboo on abortion will mean women will no longer be under the same draconian public pressure to mask their serious illness, whether haemorrage, septicemia, tetanus or other infection, until it is too late.
This Common Front has pulled together many important forces: as well as the initiators in Muvman Liberasyon Fam, there are the Women in Networking, the Mauritius Alliance of Women, Women International, the Mauritius Family Planning and Welfare Association, the Chair of the Task Force of the MMM-MSM government whose report was adopted by the parties now in Opposition. For the first time there is the Nursing Association, the biggest nurses’ union, whose support has a massive significance for women has joined the struggle. And for the first time a Union Confederation, the Confederation des Travailleurs de Secteur Prive, has joined the Union Federation, the FPBOU, in this struggle, and in the Common Front. The new human rights organization Dis-Moi (Droits Humains Maurice l’Ocean Indien) has also joined the Front. The biggest teachers’ union, the General Teachers’ Union has taken a strong stand in favour, for the first time, too, stressing that most of its members are women, and that the law must be changed for women’s rights to be respected. Amnesty Mauritius jointly with Amnesty International published a strong stand in the Press in favour of the Bill, too.
While the PMSD and MSM, generally believed, even in these politically muddled times, to be to the “right” of the Labour Party and the MMM, have taken a strong stand and even a party stand in favour of the Bill, the Labour Party, though presenting the Bill, has not come out strongly in favour of its own Bill at a political level. The MMM has shown itself prisoner of its deviation, when its leader, Paul Berenger, though he has implied that he will vote for the law after a list of what look like potential delaying tactics in preparation, refused to receive the Common Front in Favour of the New Abortion Law. Instead he chose to go and see the Bishop. MMM MP, Ms Arianne Navarre, who had actually presented what is to all intents and purposes the self-same Bill to the Cabinet when she was Minister of Women’s Rights under the MMM-MSM Government, has also been very timid in her support of the self-same provisions. Other MPs who should know better are talking about women potentially abusing the proposed provisions, relying on generally misogynous reflexes instead of using their rationality. The Common Front calls for all MPs to leave this mode of pettiness, and take their responsibility and think of women’s lives, health and dignity. “It is not the time for delaying tactics, and for point-scoring against political adversaries. Every day the Bill is delayed means women and girls lives are threatened,” a representative of the Front said to LALIT.