There are several schools of thoughts when it comes to the legitimacy of abortion in different parts of the world. In Nigeria, there are basically two laws governing abortion but before we delve in to these laws, let’s take a look at the history of abortion laws in the country.
First, it is important to note that abortion has always been illegal in the country unless it is believed that the birth of the child will endanger that of the mother.
In 1972, during the conference of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), there were attempts to reform abortion laws but this was met with lack of support as a result the attempted reforms were unsuccessful.
Also, in 1975, the National Population Council advocated for women to access safe and legal abortion on the basis of promoting health and well-being of the mother. This advocacy was supported by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians of Nigeria (SOGON).
During the SOGON convention in 1976, the Prime Minister of Health gave a speech that hinted on the possibility for a national reform of abortion laws.
But in 1981, the National Council of Women’s Societies countered the proposed bill by SOGON with regards to the proposed bill on termination of pregnancy and this prevented it from reaching the House of Representatives.
Instead the Council proposed that more efforts should be put towards family planning education and prevention of pregnancy outside of marriage.
The Campaign Against Unwanted Pregnancy (CAUP) was created in 1991 with the mission of defending women’s sexual and reproductive rights and eliminating unsafe abortion and in 1992, CAUP organized a reform meeting in which the Minister of Health and NMA president reviewed legislation regarding abortion.
However, this reform was met with much opposition and was not successful. In 1997, CAUP established the Action Group for Adolescent Health (AGAH), in which they trained medical students to become public educators on sexual and reproductive health. From 1999 to 2004, CAUP organized many workshops and lectures on sexual health and women’s rights with the hope of empowering Nigerian citizens with the knowledge to lead a healthy lifestyle and advocate for change. The focus of CAUP since 2002 has been abortion bill reform. A group of experts collaborated to outline changes in 2003. As of 2004, the bill was in its eighth stage of revision.
So let’s take a look at the current abortion laws in the country. In Northern Nigeria, abortion is governed by the Penal Code while the Criminal Code governs abortion in Southern Nigeria.
As stated earlier, the only legitimacy to abortion is if having the child is going to put the mother’s life in danger.
As a result of the abortion laws currently in place in the country, Nigeria is said to be one of the most restrictive countries when it comes to abortion.
According to the Criminal Code which is used in Southern Nigeria, the abortion laws are explicitly in the sections 228, 229, and 230.
The section 228 states that any person providing a miscarriage to a woman is guilty of felony and can be sentenced to up to 14 years of imprisonment.
The section 229 states that any woman obtaining a miscarriage is guilty of a felony and up to imprisonment for 7 years.
The section 230 states that anyone supplying anything intended for a woman’s miscarriage is also guilty of a felony and up to 3 years of imprisonment.
The Penal Code governs the Northern states and the abortion laws are contained in sections 232, 233, and 234. The sections of the Penal Code parallel the Criminal Code, besides the exception for abortion with the purpose of saving the life of the mother.
The punishment that comes with violation of the Penal Code could be imprisonment, a fine, or both. These punishments are applicable whether the miscarriage was successful.
Due to the illegal status of abortion, many women that attempt abortion often resort to unsafe abortion methods, leading to abortion-related complications.
Also there have been cases of death and diseases due to these unsafe practices. The research done by the Guttmacher Institute revealed that an estimated 456,000 unsafe abortions are done in Nigeria every year.
Also, a study carried out by the Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians of Nigeria and Nigeria’s Ministry of Health indicated that women who engage in unsafe abortion were estimated at 20,000 each year.
Research has also revealed that only 40% of abortions are performed by physicians with improved health facilities while the remaining percentage is performed by non-physicians.
Currently, abortion accounts for 40% of maternal deaths in Nigeria, making it the second leading cause of maternal mortality in the country.
Unfortunately, the health care systems in African countries have failed to make the proper changes to ensure a better future for their citizens. The government has either failed to make these issues a priority or they have attempted to introduce policies that had an opposite result of what was desired.
Also, many of the issues surrounding unsafe abortion focus on adolescents although unsafe abortion practices do affect most of the sexually active women in the country however; it is believed that adolescents may require special attention. This is because adolescents are the most in need of these services.
But it is expected that if they adopt safe practices to avoid unplanned pregnancy, these problems could start to decline. These adolescents are the most unlikely to use contraceptives to avoid pregnancy and this usually leads to unplanned pregnancy and consequently unsafe abortion practices.
There are several different methods used to try and ensure a healthy and safe approach to abortions, but Nigeria hasn’t always been able to keep up with the costs of these medical advances. For instance, there are three first-trimester safe practices that are utilized to compare costs and effectiveness. These are hospital-based dilatation and curettage; hospital-and clinic-based manual vacuum aspiration; and medical abortion using misoprostol. These methods are safe and affordable and they make the mother the top priority in the abortion process. Unfortunately, because of the illegality of abortion, many pregnant women patronize quacks that use unsafe practices which tend to increase their chances of mortality and morbidity.