Hate it, scold it, abortion is a reality. However, dirty the name may sound, women continue to patronise hospitals to have unwanted pregnancies terminated.
Lucky are those who visit qualified doctors for the termination, but woe to those that go to back street 'doctors' because untold horrors await them.
In a country where abortion remains illegal, many women and girls, some of whom conceived unwillingly through, among others, defilement and rape, the backstreet clinics are the only avenue.
As you read this article, somewhere someone, probably one you know, could be at the mercy of forked metal objects and, indeed, bitter and poisonous herbs, to remove a pregnancy.
She may die. If she lives, she will carry a scar of pain somewhere in her heart for the rest of her life.
Take, for example, Jane Mbawa of Michesi in Balaka. Her hair, properly combed and her feet in sneakers, she is probably the happiest person around. And yet, under that smile, lives another human being full of bad memories.
"I lost both my sight and dignity. I'm lucky to be alive," she says of the abortion she went through in 2010.
It all happened while she was in form two. She had fallen pregnant and could not stomach the idea of facing her parents. She visited various clinics but was told abortion is unlawful.
Running out of options and time, she went for the desperate solution for her desperate situation – visited a traditional healer where she was administered a concoction of herbs.
Soon after taking the herbs, she started bleeding profusely and feeling headache associated with dizziness.
Two days later, she started to feel pain in her eyes. It was, she says, like the eyeballs were on fire. That 'fire' gradually turned into total blindness.
"I failed to report to a health centre for fear of being arrested because I was aware that abortion is illegal," she says.
After some time and with the help of other sympathisers she visited a certain clinic in her area which referred her 55 kilometres away to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre.
Doctors there too, failed to assist her, claiming it was too late to reverse the situation.
Jane, a first born in a family of two, is a living example of women that have survived death but live with permanent disabilities due to unsafe abortions, raising questions on the sanity of illegalising termination of one's pregnancy.
Jane narrated her story during a day long advocacy meeting Youth Net and Counseling (Yoneco) organised in Zomba.
During the meeting, former victims of unsafe abortion shared their experiences and the effects they suffered after the exercise. It was revealed that scarcity of family planning methods, religious and cultural beliefs were some of the issues that are promoting the increased cases of unsafe abortions.
During the meeting, it was observed that just like the issue of same sex marriages, abortion in Malawi remains a very controversial issue in religious, moral, legal and cultural dimensions.
However, regardless of this status in the country, abortions still occur and nearly half of them are performed by unskilled practitioners or in less than sanitary conditions or both.
Methods used in unsafe abortion such as women drinking ground glass, fish poison and inserting of cassava stems, bicycle spokes into their vaginas, are not compatible with the quest for individuals to attain the highest standard of health.
In developing countries, two in five unsafe abortions occur among women under age 25, and about one in seven women who have unsafe abortions is under 20, this is according to the 2008 World Health Organisation (WHO) report on Incidences of Unsafe Abortion.
The report further states that, in Africa, about one quarter of the unsafe abortions are among teenagers aged between 15 to 19, a higher proportion than in any other region.
Despite statistics showing that Malawi loses four women a day due to unsafe abortion, government remains coy on making abortion lawful.
According to the reports, out of 17 maternal mortality in the country, 30 percent comes from unsafe abortion; making it the second leading cause of maternal deaths in the country.
Not only that. According to World Health Organisation's 2007 report, 750 women die for every 100,000 unsafe abortion procedures performed – a number more than 1,100 times greater that the mortality related to safe abortion in the USA .
The report also states that an estimated 4.2 million unsafe abortions occur throughout the continent each year. About 66,500 women die from complications of unsafe abortion and almost half of these deaths occur in Africa and, Malawi, has its share.
It was against this background that community members from the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kalembo in Balaka called upon members of parliament to review the anti-abortion laws.
Yoneco has been implementing Masukani Project in T/A Kalembo that has been raising awareness on the prevention of unsafe abortions with financial support from Ipas, a global maternal health oriented organisation that work s around the world to increase women's ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and to reduce abortion related deaths.
Chief Kalembo said despite that abortion is one of greatest tragedies in human history, it is not usually discussed because it mostly affects people who are living in the rural areas.
"Most maternal complications related deaths in my area are due to unsafe abortions. But these issues are not openly discussed because it commonly affects women in the rural areas not the elite," he said.
Third Grade Magistrate at Ulongwe Court Lawrence Mangani said issues of abortion are very sensitive and contentious in Malawi with religious, moral, cultural and political dimensions.
"Abortion is not illegal in Malawi but it is restricted to when the woman's life is in danger," he said.
He, however, admitted that using restrictive laws to force an unwilling and distressed woman to carry a pregnancy to term, and not allowing her to make any choice regarding her predicament, is a violation of the woman's right to self worth, and an infringement of her dignity.
Such is a dilemma of women in Malawi that they cannot decide what to do with the r own pregnancies whose tragic end will be borne by them alone and not some law maker who cannot understand the trauma of unwanted pregnancies.
Yoneco's executive director Mc Bain Mkandawire said the fact that the Malawi government has not yet complied with domestic and international commitments to improve the availability of safe abortion services as a reproductive right, means that it is giving women their rights with one hand, while taking them away with the other.
He argued that the country's restrictive laws on abortion were contradicting various international treaties that Malawi ratified.
According to Mkandawire, apart from the 1995 Republican Constitution enshrining various rights that agree with the need to provide safe abortion as a human right, Malawi has also ratified several binding regional and international human rights instruments that impose an obligation to address women's health, including through the provision of safe abortion services.
"It stands out as unique consensus document that calls on African governments to implement all the previous international and regional agreements, including national laws on the question of abortion," said Mkandawire.
He is backed by Ipas's Policy Associate Godfrey Kangaude who says the current abortion laws have failed women, imploring government to review the current law and harmonise it with trends in other countries such as Zambia where liberalisation of abortion laws has drastically reduced cases and deaths arising from unsafe abortions.
"This is why we are calling for the review of sections 149, 150 and 151 of the Penal Code; these sections only provide for safe abortion when the woman's life is in danger. We want them reviewed so that the circumstances under which abortion is permitted are broadened," Kangaude said.
Currently, the heated debate on abortion is centred on 'when exactly life begins' with opponents of abortion particularly, the church often equating the actions to murder in reference to rights of the unborn.
Whichever way the life and death debate goes, Malawian women remain at the receiving end and have to face the dreaded backstreet 'clinicians' to be freed from pregnancies they never wanted.