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Abortion, simply put, is the termination of pregnancy (medically, before the foetus is viable). It can be non-induced (spontaneous) which is what people often call ‘miscarriage’ or can be induced (deliberate choice).

One of the leading causes (11%) of maternal deaths in Nigeria is unsafe abortion, it is said that “every year, 5.5 million unsafe abortions take place in Africa”.

What exactly is unsafe abortion?

Unsafe Abortion can be defined as “the termination of pregnancy carried out by someone without the skills or training to perform the procedure safely, or in a place that does not meet minimal medical standards, or both.”

Several studies estimate that every year about one million abortions take place in Nigeria. it is also estimated that as of 2012, we have an abortion rate of 33 per 1000 women among women of ages 15 – 49 years, these varies across the country with higher rates seen in North-East and South-South Nigeria due to desire for smaller families and non-use of contraceptives.

In Nigeria as of 2012, 1 in 7 pregnancies ended in induced abortions. 60% of induced abortions were provided by non-physicians (chemists, pharmacists, nurses, traditional attendants and woman herself), that study discussed some of the methods used by the women to achieve this such as herbs, potash, codeine, pawpaw leaves, sharp objects etc. This further shows the desperation of these women and resultant fatality.

Nigeria is one of the countries with a restrictive law concerning abortion. In Nigeria, we have no body of law called “Abortion Law”, however we have the criminal and penal codes with portions on abortion. The criminal code used in the Southern parts and Penal for Northern states, both laws make abortion legal only if it’s done to save/preserve the woman’s life, with a punishment of jail term if illegally done (will further discuss these laws in another article).

It also important to note here, that these laws (penal or criminal codes) do not specify who should or should not perform an abortion, hereby allowing non-physicians and it doesn’t even talk about 'having the required minimum standard of environment' to perform an abortion.

It is of the belief that one of the reasons that Nigeria has unsafe abortions as one of its leading cause of maternal mortality is our restrictive law. Despite criminalizing abortion, it has proven to be ineffective in reducing its incidence and these laws are not even enforced. These women desperate to be free of stigma and pressure of unwanted and unintended pregnancy still seek the services of quack health personnel or try to terminate such pregnancy themselves putting them at risk of complications or even death.

It can be said that these restrictive law hasn’t helped in reducing the incidence of abortion in Nigeria because it doesn’t mean abortion is not happening, it has rather put our women at risk of losing their lives seeing as women still seek methods to still carry out abortions themselves or in the hands of quacks. This restrictive law rather denies women the right to their own bodies and fundamental right to heath.

I raise these thoughts not to scream on rights but to draw our attention to the threats on our women’s health and life: Can our laws be softer, that is, reformed to consider rape, incest, foetal malformation, mental health or socio-economic reasons?

Will the legalization of abortion translate to an increase in the incidence of abortion or rather a decrease in maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion? Does a foetus really have an autonomous right?

While attempts to seek the reform of the abortion laws in Nigeria continues, we can address one of the main causes of (unsafe) abortion which is unintended pregnancy through public enlightenment on contraceptive use and family life education, sexual health education and coping skills, provision of quality emergency obstetrics and gynaecological centres to manage complications of abortions especially in rural areas.

Thank you for reading. Please share and post your comments.


Chike Opara
Monday, December 25, 2017
Can our laws be softer, that is, reformed to consider rape, incest, foetal malformation, mental health or socio-economic reasons?. Clearly the laws we use today were made at a time very different from the present. These laws need to be revisited and recreated for modern times.