Unsafe Abortion in Nigeria: New Concerns, Old Problems


AllAfrica.com tells a story of a renowned man of God who abhorred abortion. He preached to his congregation that the termination of a pregnancy, whether wanted or not, was a mortal sin. During one of his messages, a 16- year old girl became pregnant due to “sexual misadventure.” Her parents went to the pastor for advice, and he insisted that there would be no termination of the pregnancy, and she had the baby.

As fate would have it, a few months later a gang of robbers broke into the pastor’s house and raped all the women, including his wife. Anger, frustration, and pain inflicted both Edward and his wife, but fate was not done with them yet. Soon after, Edward’s wife found out she was pregnant as a result of the rape, and Edward soon had a change of heart about abortion. He said he could not imagine his wife baring the child of a rapist, so abortion looked attractive to him. Instead of suggesting this to a qualified doctor, Edward let his pride get the best of him, and he took his wife to have a back-alley abortion, leading to permanent damage to her womb.

This story is important because many people deem abortion a sin. But, it’s always interesting to see how people react once the shoe is on the other foot. The young girl was religiously pressured into keeping her baby because she feared “eternal damnation,” but the pastor did not think twice about an abortion for his wife “due to his pride and self-pity,” which due to his own pride inevitably ended up hurting his wife in the end.

Due to religious backlash and fear of ruined reputations, Nigerian women turn to back-alley abortions when they receive news of unwanted pregnancy. According to AllAfrica.com, “From statistics, an estimated 46 million pregnancies [worldwide] end in induced abortions each year and 20 million of these are unsafe. About 13 per cent of pregnancy related deaths have been attributed to unsafe abortions and 80,000 deaths annually.”

Nigeria has an 1861 abortion law that allows the procedure when the life of the woman is threatened. With this law in place many health watchers are beginning to ask questions about the fate of women who are raped or are victims of incest.

What makes the Nigerian government think they know a women’s body better than she does? It always frustrates me that the only way a women can have an abortion is if “rape,” “incest” or “medical condition” is the cause. What if the woman is financially unstable and cannot provide for the child, wouldn’t that be a hardship? What if the women is in an abusive relationship and she fears for the life of her and the child? Wouldn’t that be a hardship? What if the women just knows that having a baby is just not the right decision for her? Is that not her decision? Is it not her body?

According to AllAfrica.com:

Speaking at a three-day training workshop organized by Ipas Nigeria for journalists in Reproductive Health and Rights Development, Consultant Gynaecologist, Dr Emily Nzeribe lamented that Nigerian women may continue to die due to ignorance of the Nigerian society. She said every six minutes, a woman dies needlessly as a result of an unsafe illegal abortion and obstructed labour. (Emphasis mine).

To deny women access to abortion abortion is to take a life. Forcing a woman to receive a back-alley abortion because the government does not want to provide adequate healthcare is killing her without ever laying a finger on her body. You are causing her to damage her body or to die in the process, so either way you take a life.  But taking the life of the woman not only affects her, it affects her children, her family and her community.

According to Dr. Emily Nzeribe, “Unsafe abortion mortality ratio in Africa is 110 deaths per 100,000 live births. On the average each African woman will experience seven unsafe abortions in her reproductive lifetime.” These statistics scare me. African women are dying because they want to make their own decisions about their lives and bodies, and their government is preventing them from doing so. How does this promote the women’s human rights? How is this equal?

The abortion law fails to protect women from unsafe abortions. Rather it forces women to go an unsafe route, which is killing more women daily. There needs to be a reform on the Nigeria abortion law, to where women can receive proper post abortion care and receive reproductive health services. Women should not have to suffer and die because they want to make their own decisions or because someone decided to make decisions for them. When will the death toll start to matter to the Nigerian government? When will women be allowed to make their own decisions? When will human rights matter? AllAfrica.com quotes Nzeribe further:

The legal indications for abortion in Nigeria are quite restrictive, thus making unsafe abortion a silent and persistent pandemic. Access to abortion services is particularly important for women and girls who are victims of sexual violence, rape and incest. There is a need for a review of our restrictive abortion laws due to the Human Rights implications of unsafe abortion.

The lack of political will and the disregard for human life will continue to send women to their early graves in increased numbers. When does a woman’s life begin, and politics end?

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