An abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy so that it does not result in the birth of a child. It’s also sometimes referred to as a termination of pregnancy.
Abortion in Uganda is generally illegal and is only legal in limited circumstances.
Article 22 of the 1995 Constitution provides for the right to life and Article 22(2) specifically provides that no one has the right to terminate an unborn child except if it’s authorised by law.
However, there is no law that has been created that provides specific instances in which an abortion is permitted.
Currently, the Penal Code Act of Uganda Cap 120, provides for criminal penalties to several aspects of abortion and, in the absence of any other law, it remains the authority on instances in which abortion is or is not permitted.
Offences on abortion in Uganda under the Penal Code Act Cap 120:
Attempts to procure abortion (Section 141)
Any person who unlawfully administers to any woman any poison, noxious substance or uses any force or any means on her with intent to cause a termination of a pregnancy can be punished upon conviction with imprisonment of 14 years. This offence punishes any person (including health service providers), who through any unlawful way helps and causes a woman to terminate a pregnancy.
Procuring miscarriage (Section 142)
Any pregnant woman who unlawfully administers to herself any poison or noxious thing or uses any force or any means on herself or even permits such a thing to be used on her can be punished upon conviction with imprisonment of 7 years. This offence punishes the woman who uses any means or even permits any means to be used upon her for the purposes of terminating a pregnancy.
- Supplying drugs, etc. to procure abortion (Section 143)
Any person who supplies anything knowing that it will be used unlawfully to terminate a pregnancy can be punished upon conviction with imprisonment for 3 years. This offence punishes any person, including a pharmacist, who provides anything to a woman or to any person knowing that it will be used to terminate a pregnancy.
NOTE: The key feature cutting across the three provisions above is intent. Under each of the provisions, it has to be established that there was an intention to terminate the pregnancy.
Defence to offence of abortion/ Instances where abortion is legal:
The Penal Code Act does not comprehensively provide for instances in which abortion may be permitted. However, it provides for a defence to a person accused of any of the offences related to abortion.
Under Section 224 of the Penal Code Act, a person shall not be criminally liable where the termination of a pregnancy (“abortion”) was conducted through a surgical operation with reasonable care and skill for the purposes of saving the life of the mother (life endangerment).
This defence is available to both the person providing the surgical operation and the person on whom a surgical operation is being performed.
The legal defence in the Penal Code Act therefore only excuses a termination of a pregnancy from criminal liability where it is performed with reasonable care and skill by a surgical operation having regard to the patient’s state at the time, and to all the circumstances of the case.