|Concerning the Ratification of the 'Protocol to
the African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples' Right: On the Rights of
Women in Africa'
1. The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, in Article 22.2, affirms
and protects the right to life of that most vulnerable of human persons,
the unborn child. We are sure that this article of our Constitution
reflects a deeply rooted conviction of Ugandans and a fundamental value of
our culture: namely, that all of human life is sacred and good in itself,
even from its very beginnings, and that consequently, abortion is a
2. As you may have noticed, in recent months there have been some
comments in the national media about a possible change in the legislation
of our country that would seek to introduce legalised abortion and thus
overturn Article 22.2 of the Constitution.
3. The protection of the life of the unborn child reflects a noble
desire to protect the most defenceless among us, those who cannot protect
themselves. We know very well that abortions occur, here as elsewhere in
the world. We also know that quite often they occur in dramatic
circumstances for the women involved. We do not intend to judge the
mothers who feel driven at a given moment — and often because of pressures
from those around them who thus share the responsibility — to put an end
to the innocent life developing within them. We prefer to exhort all men
and women of good will to steadfastly uphold the positive respect for life
that represents the heritage of both our Christian and African traditions.
4. It is our duty as Pastors and citizens to remind our fellow
Catholics and our fellow Ugandans that the very purpose of the law is to
foster the common good. The common good is undermined, indeed betrayed,
when a society fails to protect its weak and defenceless members.
Abortion, regardless of the reasons leading to it, is always an attack on
the weakest and the most defenceless members of our society. We are
obliged to put this point strongly before our fellow countrymen: abortion
— the deliberate termination of a pregnancy at any stage of its
development — is always an objective evil. No legislation can change it
into something good. This is the law of God, which anyone can find
enshrined in the natural law. We therefore appeal to the legislators of
the country not to yield on this fundamental point. Abortion is an
objective evil and our legislation must never seek to legitimise it.
5. We have chosen to write this open letter now because of grave events
may have escaped the attention of the media and of public opinion thus
far. These events are ominous and we think it is necessary to speak out
about them before it is too late. We refer here to a protocol on the
Rights of Women in Africa adopted by the second ordinary session of the
African Union at Maputo on 11 July 2003. In other words, a legal text is
being proposed to all the countries of Africa for incorporation into each
country's national law.
The Maputo Protocol has been welcomed by many people, men and women of
good will, because it contains some elements that are praiseworthy.
However, we must note with dismay that the same protocol also contains an
explicit affirmation and encouragement of abortion. Thus, the ratification
of this protocol by a country introduces into the national law of that
country the right to abortion. Under the title "Health and reproductive
rights" we read:
The Stated Parties shall... "protect the reproductive rights of
women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape,
incest and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical
health of the mother or the life of the mother or the fetus" (Art.
6. To date, 16 African countries have ratified this protocol. We
wonder how many of the citizens of these 16 African countries are aware of
the decision of their legislators. We also wonder if the same African
citizens are aware that the African Union, with this protocol, has
introduced the first human-rights instrument to expressly articulate a
woman's right to abortion in specified circumstances. Never before has
an international protocol gone so far! We believe strongly that the people
of Africa have no wish to see such a protocol introduced into their laws.
We are sure the People of Uganda would never wish it. For that reason we
find it essential to bring this matter to public attention. Uganda has
signed this protocol, but has not yet ratified it. In practical
terms, this means that the protocol has no force in Uganda and will
have no legal force until it is ratified and confirmed.
7. Abortion is always a defeat of humanity: the elaborate, mixed and
confused semantics under which it is increasingly disguised by powerful
lobbies at work in many of the international and national fora also here
in Uganda, will never hide the fact that it is a willful homicide of the
most defenceless form of life. In the history of humanity never has such
objective evil been presented and approved as a right. This is the
fundamental truth that no mixed and deceitful semantics can hide. Who
protects the right to life of the unborn child?
8. The situations of severe distress mentioned by the text of the
protocol (rape, incest, sexual assault) cannot create the right to
suppress an innocent life. This applies even less to a much less well
defined "danger to the mental and physical health of the mother or the
life of the mother or the life of the fetus" which, as matter of fact,
is the open door to abortion on demand.
9. We are convinced that only a consistent and unambiguous process of
education to a correct and wholly human practice of sexuality can stop the
spread of the kind of behaviour that leads to rape, incest, sexual assault
and eventually to "unwanted pregnancies". So we feel the need to renew
this observation and direct it to all women and men of good will, to
parents, to educators, to pastors, to all actors in civil society: there
are no short cuts in the process of integral human development. We ask
them to renew efforts and initiatives in support of families, of
the education of youth and especially of women victims of rape and incest
or of those simply carrying a child conceived out of wedlock.
10. The growth of a mature human personality depends on a culture, on a
tradition handed on from generation to generation, on unambiguous values
consistently upheld and witnessed by mature persons: fathers, mothers,
educators, role models... that the youth encounter on their path. This
culture and behaviour can be hindered by an ambiguous and confusing
legislation. We appeal to all women and men of good will, and to the
youth, to promote a "culture of life" and resist all forms of aggression
11. As a practical suggestion, we encourage all men and women of good
will to actively engage political candidates requesting our vote in this
electoral period with specific questions about their intentions concerning
the legalisation of abortion in Uganda and the ratification of the Maputo
Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. We encourage all men and women
who share our concerns to specifically condition their vote to the
assurance and commitment the candidate does not approve either.
12. In conclusion, we say to our fellow Ugandans: the greatest gift of
the Creator to humanity is the gift of life. Accepting that gift means
also welcoming the beautiful gift of human sexuality, through which the
Creator has chosen to channel his gift of new life. Only a full
understanding of the precious, yet complex, gift of human sexuality, and
the consequent efforts to protect and value it, can build a healthy
society. The legislation of our Country cannot be ambiguous on this point.
This is the task we all have.
13. In the book of Deuteronomy, God puts this choice before his people:
"I put before you life and death, blessing and curse: choose life then
that you and your descendants may live" (Dt 30:19). Never before has this
choice been so dramatically relevant for us as now. Before us we have the
choice and responsibility of protecting innocent and defenceless human
life or of allowing it to be snuffed out, abandoned and neglected. Our
choice does not concern only the unborn, it concerns every single life;
for if we allow one innocent human life to be arbitrarily extinguished we
diminish all human life and we bring about that curse of which the book of
Deuteronomy speaks. The pestilence of abortion threatens our land. We
write to alert the government and people of Uganda to this threat and to
urge them all: "Choose life".
Archbishop of Mbarara
Chairman, Catholic Bishops' Conference
19 January 2006