Abortion is legal in Namibia, but only if a woman is in danger or has been sexually abused. Activists are demanding reform

Members of the Voices for Choices and Rights Coalition march to the Zoo Park in Windhoek, Namibia, on July 18, to demand abortion reforms.

(CNN)What do you do when your country is torn between decriminalizing abortion and maintaining its colonial abortion laws? Start a debate.

That's the idea being put forward by Esther Muinjangue, Namibia's deputy minister of health and social services.
The southern African nation has recently seen protests from both anti-abortion activists and abortion rights advocates.
    On June 25, Muinjangue, dressed in black, stood before the Namibian parliament and put forward a motion to debate the pros and cons of making on-demand abortions available to women in the country.
      "Whether or not legalized, abortion is a reality in our society and hence the need to debate on it, weigh the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages, in order for us as a country to make informed decisions," she said during her televised appearance at the National Assembly.
      Muinjangue added that it was important for lawmakers to look into the reasons for abortions before making a decision to keep or repeal Namibia's law on the conditions for terminating pregnancies.

      Abortion law

        Under Namibia's Abortion and Sterilization Act of 1975, abortions are illegal for women and girls, except in cases involving incest, rape, or where the mother or child's life is in danger.
        Namibia inherited the law from neighboring South Africa during apartheid, a system of legislation that segregated and discriminated against non-white South Africans.
        According to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, the law was put in place in 1975 to ensure that the white population in South Africa would continue to procreate amid fears that the black population was growing too quickly. Even though South Africa changed its law in 1996, two years after the end of the apartheid, Namibia continued to uphold the criminalization of abortions.
        And as Muinjangue and her colleagues in the Namibian parliament continue to debate whether or not they want to keep upholding this 45-year-old law, feminists and activists in the country are calling it discriminatory and lobbying for it to be repealed.
        "These laws are truly outdated and the countries we inherited those laws from have long changed theirs. Meanwhile, we still continue to keep ours," Naisola Likimani told CNN.
        Likimani is the lead of the SheDecides Support Unit. She Decides is a global gender rights movement which speaks out for the right of women and girls to make decisions about their bodies.
        Given the risk involved in pregnancy and childbirth, she said, women should be given the chance to decide if they want to subject their bodies to the possible dangers that come with pregnancy.
        Approximately 810 women died every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth in 2017, according to the World Health Organization.
        In the same year, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 86% of the estimated deaths of women during pregnancy.
        "Giving birth is a life and death situation for many women. You are putting your body at risk when you decide to carry a pregnancy. So, you should really be the one to say whether or not you want to carry it," Likimani said.

        Petitions and protests

        Thousands of Namibians have signed a petition calling for a reform of the abortion law.
        The petition, posted in June by Beauty Boois, a Namibian feminist and psychologist, currently has more than 61,000 signatures in support of legalizing abortion.
        "We hope that this petition results in the legalization of abortion in Namibia so that Namibian women can take full ownership and practice autonomy over their own bodies," Boois wrote in the petition.
        The petition was signed by multiple organizations and womens' groups including Out-Right Namibia, the Young Feminist Movement of Namibia, and Power Pad Girls.
        It also resulted in protests on July 18 that included hundreds of feminists and activists demanding that sexual and reproductive rights of women be upheld.
        Some Namibians in the diaspora also joined the protests online, showing solidarity by using the hashtag #LegalizeAbortionNA.
        "Part of our demand during the protest was access to wholistic reproductive justice care for Namibian women. We want access to on-demand abortion for anyone from the age of 10," Ndiilokelwa Nthengwe told CNN.
        Nthengwe is the communications officer for the Namibia chapter of humans rights organization, Outright Action International, and one of the protesters fighting for sexual reproductive health and rights for women in Namibia.
        Ndiilokelwa Nthengwe is a feminist and co-founder of the Voices for Choices and Rights Coalition.