Kenyan Nurse Sentenced to Hang for Botched Illegal Abortion

Legal restrictions forced 400,000 women in the country to undergo dangerous procedures in 2012.

Maternity operating room in Siaya County, Kenya (Photo: Moving Mountain Trust/Flickr)

Oct 3, 2014· 1 MIN READ
TakePart fellow Jessica Dollin studied journalism at the University of Arizona. She has written for the Phoenix New Times and HerCampus.

The death of a woman who sought an abortion and the death sentence of the nurse who performed the procedure have reignited the debate over abortion rights in Kenya.

A judge sentenced Jackson Namunya Tali, 41, to be hanged after ruling that the nurse was responsible for the death of Christine Atieno, a teenage mother.

Atieno came to Tali on deciding to terminate her second pregnancy. She may have sought the procedure elsewhere and been turned down. According to an account by Tali's wife published in Kenya's Daily Nation, the young woman arrived at Tali's office already in pain.

Abortion rights in Kenya are extremely limited, the procedure is allowed only “for emergency treatment” or when the woman’s life is in danger, Mother Jones reported. This doesn’t seem to have any effect on the number of abortions performed: A 2013 study [pdf] found that there are 48 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 49 in 2012. (In the United States, there were 17 abortions per every 1,000 women in 2011.) Virtually all of the 465,000 abortions performed in Kenya in 2012 were clandestine and therefore unsafe, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Previous legislation mandated that three doctors were needed to approve an abortion and the procedure could only be performed if a woman’s life was in danger. Kenya's constitution, adopted in 2010, only requires that one doctor approve an abortion.

Tali attempted to treat the patient, but she started to bleed profusely and died in the car as Tali drove her to the hospital.

The Daily Nation reported that the judge said, “The only question is, who interfered with the fetus? It is only the accused who can answer since he attempted to secure the abortion. He has killed two people; a fetus and a mother.”

The comments section of two of the articles on the subject were filled by people who disagreed with the judge's ruling. Some commenters suggested that the defendant appeal for a less harsh sentence and questioned the death sentence.

"The learned judge should have pushed back and wondered whether it's not time to discuss legalising abortion instead of continuing to give in to misguided religious notions of morality," wrote commenter MikenyaMpya.