If you didn’t already know, inducing an abortion is illegal in Nigeria except when the woman’s life is at risk. It is governed by two laws, the Penal Code, for the North and the Criminal Code for the south. The sections concerning abortion are 228, 229 and 230 in the Criminal Code Act of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It states that
228. Any person who, with intent to procure miscarriage of a woman whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years…more
So, if you are seeking an abortion or already sought it, you are liable to 7 years in prison, but if you are the provider of abortion, you are liable to even greater punishment, 14 years in prison.
Data on provision of abortion & post-abortion care were collected from a sample size of 772 health facilities by Nigerian researchers at the Guttmacher Institute, New York to estimate the incidence of abortion and unintended pregnancies in Nigeria in 2012. An estimated 1.2 million induced abortions occurred in Nigeria in 2012. This is equivalent to 33 abortions per 1000 women. Estimated unintended pregnancies were 59 per 1000 women between ages 15 & 49. About 56% of those unwanted pregnancies were resolved by abortion. About 212,000 women were treated for complications of unsafe abortion, representing a treatment rate of 5.6 per 1,000 women. A staggering 285, 0000 women experienced serious health consequences but did not receive the treatment they needed. All of this, in a country where abortion is illegal. So what gives?
*Fun Fact: Did you know, that Nigeria and Ghana have the highest online search for abortion pills despite ban?
It’s not a question of whether women will try to procure an abortion or not regardless of the law, whether we like it or not, it’s going to happen, no matter if it is safe or not. The data has shown this. It’s a question of whether they get to have these abortions safely under close monitoring of quality health professional. It’s a question of whether they are not afraid of getting help when things go terribly awry from inducing an abortion.
No woman should have to go to jail because they don’t want a pregnancy. A pregnancy which if carried to term, would solely be her responsibility for a major part of her life! By the way, the government doesn’t care if you can’t afford to take care of that baby, but they are going to try and force you to keep that baby. No such thing as welfare/aid for you if you are a poor mother in Nigeria. The closest you are going to get to welfare in this country is rice or money shared by political aspirants during election season.
With the high cost of living and low income plaguing the country, raising an unwanted child is very expensive. It is time consuming, it drains you financially and emotionally. The onus is on the woman to bear the burden of taking care of the baby alone in majority of the cases of unwanted pregnancies. If she’s lucky, the baby’s father or family members help out.
Poor mothers with unwanted pregnancies are usually the ones who bear the brunt of the abortion ban. They are more likely to be desperate for an abortion than women of means, because of their low/zero income and the potential future cost of raising a new child and as a result, are more likely to seek the help of a quack doctor or even worse do it themselves because they can’t afford a better specialist willing to perform the illegal procedure; which may or may not lead to abortion complications and in extreme cases, future infertility or death.
Teen moms are not left out. There’s a huge social stigma around sex out of wedlock, talk less of pregnancy. A pregnant young teen, because of the stigma and shame from society, will try to prevent people, most especially her parents from finding out she’s pregnant. There’s even a saying used to shame unmarried ladies with unintended pregnancies; “Belle don come, shakara don end”, meaning “Pregnancy has come, thus posing/showing off has ended”. This stigma is strong enough to drive most girls to get an abortion at all costs. I’ve heard horror stories of pregnant boarding school girls aborting their baby by using an iron cloth hanger to pull the fetus out. There’s a kind of desperation that makes a woman insert an hanger into her body, regardless of bleeding to death or facing prison. Social pressure is hard. No woman should have to face that.
There are some common arguments people give against why abortion should be illegal all over the world.
Should have used a condom
People will say things like, you should have used a condom, you should have kept it in your pants, you should have used Postinor 2. That logic is faulty. You might as well tell someone who contracted HIV/AIDS that they don’t deserve to get treated for it because they should have been more careful. These people are forgetting that contraception does fail. Contraception failure doesn’t discriminate against married or unmarried women. So, when contraception fails, what happens then? In your opinion, do they deserve to have an unwanted pregnancy?
Apart from that, not everybody knows what they are doing when it comes to sex, especially teenagers. In Nigeria, sex education from parents to their children is nothing to write home about. Most parents try to avoid it or even sugar-coat it. You won’t hear the average Nigerian father tell his son to use a condom, because they don’t want it to seem like they are encouraging their kids to have sex, so they avoid the conversation all together.
Doesn’t a woman with five/six/enough kids, who has an unwanted pregnancy deserve an abortion? Should a naive, immature fifteen year old girl with an unwanted pregnancy who made the mistake of having sex without condom have to pay for that mistake for the rest of her life? Should a woman who gets pregnant after being raped have to be reminded of this humiliation forever by keeping that child? Should a university student that can’t fend for herself have to keep an unwanted pregnancy by a man who could not care less? Should a career driven woman who is not emotionally/psychologically ready to care for a baby have to keep her pregnancy?
Well the government thinks they should, by keeping that law in place, and preventing medical practitioners from openly helping these women exercise their human rights over their own body. Abortion is an issue that most people feel doesn’t concern them, until it does.
Not to mention, we have a population problem in Nigeria. The fact is, Nigeria is lacking a concrete population control plan, since we are depending on family planning alone to curb our population explosion. The government of China uses abortion as a family planning tool and also as a remedial measure for controlling their population.
Some give religion as a reason that abortion should continue to be illegal. A lot of people believe that God is against abortion. Personally, I challenge the belief/argument that abortion is forbidden by religion, but that’s a story for another day. Abortion is not treated anywhere in the christian/Islamic scriptures; you might then give a rebuttal, saying thou shall not commit murder is a part of the ten commandments and that a fetus is a living human. Is it though? At what point do we draw the line between an unborn’s right and the mother’s rights.
I believe we should let the woman decide herself, if she wants to commit the sin of abortion (since we are discussing something that affect her person), the same way condoms are provided to the general public and people are left to decide if they want to commit the sin of premarital sex, after all, thou shall not fornicate is a law in religion.
The matter of whether abortion bans should be removed should be decided by conscience and reason, not by religion. The woman is the closest one to the decision. She is the one who has her life on the line, whose body and future are at stake. She should be left to decide what she wants.
So called killing of the unborn child is a lesser evil compared to not giving a woman the sole right over her body. We don’t get to force people to have a baby earlier than they are ready to or at all.
A lot of people believe that abortion can cause a woman to die or can lead to future infertility. They are not wrong. But so can pregnancy. The risks referred to, do happen when abortions and pregnancies take place in unsafe ways without close monitoring by qualified health professionals. According to a study by Obstetrics & Gynecology, the risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. This actually makes sense, because as the fetus grows bigger, the placenta gets stronger, and the baby depends on the mother more. Delivering a baby that has come to term comes with larger risks.
Abortion has a scary reputation, and rightfully so, but this believe is based on outdated and unsafe techniques of abortions being carried out in the country. Abortions are unsafe in Nigeria, because people don’t have access to safe procedures; they don’t have access to safe procedures because there’s a ban on it. If the ban remains, the procedure remains unsafe. We can’t have one without the other.
The Way Forward
It’s the government’s job to make sure women don’t die unnecessarily from unsafe abortion. The right way for the government to reduce abortion is to make it less necessary instead of less available. Programs should be made available to educate people on the use of various means of contraceptives. Also, parents should be encouraged to educate their children on premarital sex and contraceptives. Another way is to make sure, women have access to health care and the financial means should they choose to keep the baby. This is by far, a better way of reducing unintended pregnancies.
Women should also have access to safer abortion procedures. They can make sure of this by lifting the ban first and then training professionals who can carry out the procedure safely on a world class level.
In Nigeria and around the world, organizations have been set up to help women who want an abortion. So if you are a girl/woman and you wants an abortion you can get help from the likes of WomenOnWeb and Miss Rosy. Also, if you want to read about other people’s abortion stories, read this site and this site.