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Lilongwe, Malawi, Mar 23, 2021 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Malawi’s National Assembly earlier this month declined to debate a bill that would expand the grounds for procuring an abortion.

The Nyasa Times reported that “almost all MPs shouted ‘No’” when it was suggested March 11 that the bill be debated.

The bill would permit abortion in circumstances of rape, incest, fatal fetal impairment, or when pregnancy endangers the mother’s physical or mental health. Abortion is currently criminalized in Malawi except in cases of saving the mother’s life.

Mathews Ngwale, an independent MP who aligns with the Democratic Party, introduced the bill. Ngwale is head of the Parliamentary Health Committee.

Father Henry Saindi, a spokesman for the Malawi bishops’ conference, told The Nation, a Blantyre daily, in September 2020, “I know they are trying to coin some phrases such as safe abortion, but what we are saying is that abortion is abortion. Regardless of how life came about, life is sacred…We say no to whatever is being proposed”.

The bill’s backers claim legal abortion will reduce maternal deaths, because fewer women would seek unsafe, criminalized abortions.

MP Nicholas Dausi said the bill should not even have been introduced, and that “women should not be allowed to kill.”

Several religious groups in addition to the Catholic Church are opposed to the bill, including Presbyterian and Evangelical ecclesial communities and the country’s Muslim Association.

Malawi has faced proposals to expand the grounds for abortion for several years.

In a 2016 pastoral statement, the nation’s bishops said: “In a country little by little marked by trends in the declining respect for human life, the Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Our belief in the sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of the human person is the foundation of all the principles of social teaching.”

“Through the agents of the culture of death, campaigning for abortion legislation, human life is under direct attack,” the bishops lamented. “In these circumstances, we wish to reaffirm that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every society is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.”