Law on Abortion in Malawi: Effects on Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and How to Change the Status Quo

Author(s): Mercy Chaluma
Final project
Year of publication:
Gender and Sexual/Reproductive Health
Number of pages:


Under the Malawi Penal Code, the performance of abortions is illegal. Seeking an abortion is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Abortions can only be legally performed to save the life of the pregnant woman. This 88-year-old law continues to be enforced despite Malawi ratifying several international treaties in favour of legalized abortion. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 53% of pregnancies in Malawi are unintended, and close to 30% of those end in abortion. Moreover, 40% of all gynaecological admissions in Malawi are post-abortion care cases as a result of clandestine and unsafe abortions. Abortion accounts for 18% of maternal deaths in Malawi (Guttmacher Institute, 2014). The law has not stopped abortions, but only made them unsafe resulting in a cost in in excess of $500,000 a year for post-abortion treatment. The penal code needs to be changed to decriminalize abortion. Furthermore, the government needs to address the root causes of unwanted pregnancy to reduce the need for abortion. This two-pronged approach for dealing with unsafe abortions in Malawi will mean that fewer women risk their lives undergoing unsafe abortions.