Last night, 12 June 2012, was historic. The National Assembly passed a new more liberal abortion law on the basis of “free votes” in all parties in Parliament, by 50 votes in favour of the Bill, fourteen against, one abstention. Four MPs were absent from the country, and three of those had given vibrant speeches in favour of the Bill during the 5-week debate in Parliament in the build-up to the vote. The new law which is thus supported by over three-quarters of Parliament allows abortion in the restrictive cases of maternal health, physical or mental, grave foetal health problems, and in cases of rape, incest and statutory rape, whereas the old law, though confused and confusing, outlawed all abortion, even to save the life of the pregnant woman. A recent survey by DCDM Research shows that over two-thirds of women in the country support the Bill, while as many as 80% see abortion as “a last resort”, implying it is not out of the question.
Until the vote, LALIT was the only political party that had struggled for the de-criminalization of abortion, and that was openly in favour of lifting the repression off women who had had recourse to abortion. LALIT’s position was considered “marginal”, so strong is the anti-abortion propaganda. The voting in Parliament, however, showed that 100% of the Labour Government MPs are in favour, three-quarters of their ally, the PMSD’s MPs are in favour, and 100% of their other ally, the Mouvement Rodriguais’s MPs are in favour. The MSM, in opposition is in favour by 90%, while the MMM had 50% of its MPs vote in favour, including the leader, who is also the Leader of the Opposition, the MMM general secretary and the Opposition Whip. The only parties against were the marginal parties, with one seat each: Cehl Meeah’s FSM (ex-Hisbullah), the OPR (which has a former priest as leader), and Eric Guimbeau’s party that represents big capital.
The Common Front in Favour of the New Abortion Bill, led by the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, ran an on-going campaign in favour of the Bill, and women packed the public gallery at Parliament every sitting, even when debates went on to midnight or 1 a.m. Large groups of women could be seen eating “dipin gato piman” at “Providence” in Desforges Street during the dinner break at Parliament. Other organizations in the Front included WIN, Mauritius Alliance of Women, Women International, Collectif Citoyen, the Mauritius Family Planning and Welfare Association, Dis-Moi the human rights group, and Nursing Association which is the biggest nurses’ union, the Government Teachers’ Union which is the biggest teachers’ union, the Confederation Travailleurs Secteur Prive and Federation of Parastatal Bodies. The four Regional Committees of the National Womens’ Councils supported the Common Front, and sent delegates to Parliament each time, as did the ISDP, an organization at the University.
Most abortions will remain illegal, however, members of the Common Front reminded the Press, in a point de presse after the vote. So, the struggle continues, one after the other, women added. However, at least women in the most dire straits will now be able to have medical abortions. At least now women will be able to present at hospitals for prompt medical care if a backstreet abortion has gone wrong, because the taboo is now broken.
Analysis will continue in a meeting of the Common Front this Saturday, a representative said.