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Rwanda orders release of young women jailed over abortions

Last Updated May 19, 2020 at 7:46 am EDT

KIGALI, Rwanda — Rwanda’s president has pardoned and ordered the release of 50 young women who were jailed for having or assisting with abortions.

Justice Minister Johnston Busingye said the women released Tuesday were the last to be freed. Last year, President Paul Kagame ordered the release of 52 women.

Kagame also informed the cabinet Monday that a total of 3,596 inmates had been granted “conditional release” from prison. The government is trying to reduce the number of inmates to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last month, 1,182 people were freed.

Previously, abortion was illegal in Rwanda with a prison sentence for anyone who had an abortion or helped in terminating a pregnancy. The new law says abortion is allowed in cases such as rape, forced marriage, incest or instances where the pregnancy poses a health risk.

The law requires that abortions be carried out only after consultation with a doctor.

But Sylvie Nsanga, a prominent women’s rights advocate, said the requirement to consult a doctor and seek a parent’s consent remains a challenge because it’s not easy to get support for an abortion in Rwandan culture.

There are no doctors in rural areas and travelling far from a village to look for one can carry a stigma, she added.

“It means girls will continue to get pregnant, abort, be imprisoned and then get pardoned by the president,” Nsanga told The Associated Press. “There should be move conversation about the penal code that prohibits health professionals such as midwives from providing abortions.”

Ignatius Ssuuna, The Associated Press