Kenya: Lawmakers Seek to Alter Definition of Beginning of Life in Constitution

The Kenyan Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Review has recommended a revision to the country’s constitution to alter a clause that defines life as starting at conception to state that it starts at birth.

Though the draft of the new constitution, assembled by a Committee of Experts, contains no specific reference to abortion, the revision to the clause dealing with the right to life and redefinition of when life begins and ends has resulted in severe criticism from religious leaders who are adamant that ambiguity about the beginning of human life is unacceptable.

A statement released by the Kenya Episcopal Conference (KEC) on January 21 warned that the move to define life as starting at birth was tantamount to legalizing abortion, and that the country’s Catholic bishops would oppose any law that supports a culture of death.

"To insert in the constitution a clause that shifts the moment of life from conception to the time of birth defeats reason and without doubt is to open the way to legalized abortion," the statement declared.

"Conscious of our divine mandate to promote the culture of life and to stand for the inviolable right of every person to life from the moment of conception to natural death, we strongly feel we cannot be party to any legislation that supports a culture of death," the bishops said.

The bishops point out that both the science and Church teaching is clear and unequivocal.

“Life begins at conception and ends with natural death and any attempt to deny this truth is wrong and misleading. A constitution that does not protect life in all its phases is irremediably faulty and ceases to demand any recognition,” they stated.

The January 21 statement was issued by 23 bishops and signed by Rt. Rev. Philip Sulumeti, the Bishop of Kakamega and KEC vice-chairman, with the mandate of John Cardinal Njue, the Archbishop of Nairobi and the KEC chairman.

With almost three-quarters of Kenya’s 37.2 million people professing Christianity (25% Catholic and 50% Protestant), the voice of the country’s religious leaders demanding protection of life from conception will be difficult for the government to ignore.

Canon Peter Karanja of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) told IPSnews: "Life is sacrosanct. The definition of life must be stipulated in the supreme law of the land, the Constitution. Life must be defined as starting at conception and ending at natural death."

Karanja said that the NCCK is ready to mobilize a campaign against the proposed change to the constitution in the event of a referendum.

"Should the harmonized draft remain as it is without defining when life begins, we shall explore legitimate options as stipulated under the Kenya Constitution Review Act, 2008 to seek amends. What is clear is that this issue needs to be taken seriously as it will definitely take centre-stage with regards to the referendum," said Karanja.

The canon was adamant that protection of life from conception was central to all other human rights and that innocent life must not be sacrificed to human expediency.

"It must be understood that pregnancy is God’s design, results from sexual contact between a man and a woman. God, therefore, holds the man and woman responsible to control themselves and engage in sex as a husband and wife. In any case, that a pregnancy results, it is not the problem of the unborn child. Why kill the innocent, helpless human life when it has resulted from the behavior of adults?"

IPSnews indicates that the Parliamentary Select Committee will work toward resolving the "contentious issues" presented by the church leaders before a draft is submitted to the National Assembly for approval.

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