For years, international abortion giant Marie Stopes International has been accused of performing illegal abortions in Africa. Recently, Kenya’s government held an inquiry into alleged illegal activities in their country. As a result of their findings, Kenya’s medical board banned Marie Stopes from performing abortions and demanded detailed records of their activities.
In response to a citizens’ petition, the Kenyan health minister directed the health practitioners’ board to investigate Marie Stopes Kenya. The chief complainant was Ann Kioko, African regional campaign manager for the grassroots organizing platform CitizenGO. Kioko testified that Marie Stopes was advertising their abortion services on radio and social media in a manner that violated Kenya’s regulations on advertising health services. Moreover, the ads offered abortion as a solution to an inconvenient pregnancy, seeming to violate Kenyan law allowing for abortion only when the life or health of the mother is at risk.
Kioko told the Friday Faxshe called the Marie Stopes hotline and found, “if you just mention you’re pregnant, they ask if you have 5,000 (Kenyan shillings, roughly $48). “If you say you’re pregnant, they say okay, we know what you want. They try to convince you to have it aborted,” Kioko said.
She said the Marie Stopes representative never asked her if she wanted to be pregnant, nor offered prenatal care or birth assistance.
At the formal inquiry, Marie Stopes chairman Dr. Hezron McObewa claimed that abortion makes up only one percent of the services his organization provides. When the medical board asked for the source data for that claim, he was unable to provide it.
Kioko reported that the board members grew angry at McObewa’s responses. “He admitted they offer abortions to children without parental guidance…he actually said a desire to have an abortion is enough of an indicator [to provide it].”
“This angered the chairperson of the medical practitioners’ board…he asked him, ‘Where is the law of Kenya? Do you ever consider Kenyan law?’”
Kioko said the Marie Stopes chairman’s testimony led to subsequent action by the government, which sent police to a Marie Stopes clinic and found underage girls lined up for contraceptive injections. As this is illegal, the police intervened before the injections could be administered.
The medical board suspended Marie Stope’s abortion activities in Kenya, characterized their social media advertisements as “erroneous and misleading,” and noted that the messages were targeted to minors.
“The medical board was very angry about the advertisements,” said Kioko. Marie Stopes was formally admonished for contravening advertising rules and instructed to separate their advocacy work from service delivery and submit reports of their activities.
Marie Stopes has previously faced allegations of illegal activities elsewhere in Africa, including a ban in Zambia for performing illegal abortions in 2012. Kioko said they were also being investigated in Tanzania, which recently restricted family planning advertising.
Despite these pro-life gains, European government continue to support UK-based Marie Stopes. Initiatives like the She Decides campaign also stepped up to fill the gap after the U.S. cut off funding for international abortion groups.
More work will be necessary: “We also need to take legal action,” said Kioko. “They broke the law, let them be answerable.”
Rebecca Oas PhD writes for the Friday Fax.