The Protestant Council of Rwanda ordered all health facilities run by its members to stop all abortions, restricting access to the procedure in the country of 13 million people and a Christian majority.
A council resolution earlier this month called abortion a sin, broadly reflecting the position of the Catholic Church in Rwanda but contradicting the east African country’s law, which allows abortions for certain reasons.
The statement, signed by 26 Protestant religious organizations, urges parents to “guide” their daughters to abstinence until marriage.
Previously, abortion was illegal in Rwanda, with a prison sentence for anyone performing an abortion or assisting in the termination of a pregnancy.
But the law was amended in 2018 to allow abortion in cases such as rape, forced marriage, incest or where pregnancy poses a health risk. The law stipulates that an abortion may only be carried out after consultation with a doctor.
According to the Church, the best way for health facilities that are board members to deal with abortions is to refer them to other hospitals.
The decision affects around 10% of the largest healthcare facilities in Rwanda. Cardinal Antoine Kambanda, head of the church in Rwanda, told the Associated Press that the Catholic Church owns 30% of the country’s health facilities, most of which are in rural areas.
An official at Rwanda’s Health Ministry told The Associated Press that the Rwandan government viewed the Protestant Council’s decision on the sensitive issue as “undesirable”.
The officer spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak about the issue, publicly. Some human rights groups have urged the Protestant Council to reconsider.
Sylvie Nsanga, a prominent advocate for women’s rights, condemned the religious stance, calling it “disappointing”.
Sexual and reproductive health issues are often controversial in the largely conservative country.
Last year Parliament rejected a bill proposed by some members of civil society that would give girls between the ages of 15 and 18 access to contraception in a bid to reduce teenage pregnancy.
However, some Rwandan lawmakers argued that the bill would instead give the teenage girls a “green light” to be promiscuous.