Unsafe abortion has lingered as one of the chief factors for the increasing maternal death ring in the country. The level at which unsafe abortion is destroying the lives of young Nigerian women has become a cause for concern among many Nigerians.
In a recent figure relayed by the President General of Umuada Igbo Nigeria and in the Diaspora, Dr. Kate Ezeofor, it was reprehensibly pragmatic that more than 34,000 young women in Nigeria die from abortion and its complications every year. This, according to Bankole and Henshaw et al, means that 1 in 10 Nigerian women have an abortion in her lifetime.
The source sustained that there are 760,000 abortions cases every year in Nigeria, 60 percent of which are unsafe. These figures even look like a charade compared to a survey conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2007, which divulged that over 25% of young women in Nigeria have their first sexual intercourse by the age of 15; and by the age of 18 years, over 60% of adolescents have had sexual intercourse, many leading to unwanted pregnancy, hence abortion.
At the age of 18, according to specialists, many are of the view that unwanted pregnancy cannot be avoided. But this is not the view of many parents and guidance. They said that no sensible parent would want to lengthen an Olive Branch to his or her daughter who got pregnant when she was not old enough to bear the consequences of the outcome.
In that view, a State Police Command apprehended a 21-year-old man that was identified as Ib Remigus, for the suspected murder of his 16-year-old girlfriend, who was identified as Ifeayinwa, through abortion pills. That was not even as men of the Bauchi State Police Command arrested four people in connection with the death of a 23-year-old pregnant lady, whose corpse was abandoned in Guru Village in the state.
Many of the girls have died in unsafe abortions out of ignorance. A young man in Rivers State confessed to the police recently of giving his now ex-girlfriend, an abortion pill he camouflaged as an antibiotic. The ex-girlfriend was barely 18yrs old. There was an unconfirmed story of a respected fertility doctor who caused her pregnant girlfriend to take medication that caused her to abort a barely two-months-old fetus.
A quack nurse was also arrested by the police detectives in Ondo State over the death of an 18-year-old girl. The victim’s name was given as Omolayo Afolabi, whom the nurse from hell was said to have helped lapse a two-month-old pregnancy in Iju/Itaogbolu area of the state. In Delta State, exploration revealed that about 23 young ladies, who sought their superfluous pregnancies ended, reportedly died after they consumed some herbal abortion mixture from a quack.
Health professionals were worried that many of the victims could have not died if not for what they termed anti-pregnancy regulations by some religious bodies. In ?September ?17, 2013 ?the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Nigeria had reiterated its concern and vehemently kicked against attempts by foreign organisations to introduce what it termed as “sickly values into the country, such as same sex marriage and abortion.” Apparently, the bishops also condemned the use of condoms. The Catholic Ecclesiastical Province of Owerri, the same year, tackled Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State for signing what it characterized as “anti-life legislation” into law in the state; forces compelled the governor to rescind his position.
On Sunday ?17, ?2013, ? Senate President David Mark reaffirmed that the fight against the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality in the country remained. The Senate President had made this known in Abuja at the first plenary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN). But investigation revealed that while most of the girls indulge in illicit sexual intercourse which often leads to unwanted pregnancy, many of them said that they were forced by the men or peers into it.
For example, two girls aged 15 and 19, according to a report provided by a non-governmental organization (NGO) known as IPAS, which says that it seeks to offer superior approach into the productive rights of women, had this confession of two young women: “After he forced me to have sex, he started sending my friend, a girl, to talk to me, because he knew I was mad at him and did not want to see him again. My friend convinced me that such things happen to every girl, so I should get used to it. So, I forgave the boy and went back.”
The other said: “One day, he told me that he wanted to introduce me to his relatives who would help in getting us married: I went there. He was alone. He locked the door; he threatened me saying: how could he marry me if I behaved like this? He beat me when I tried to get out.” Whichever way, abortion has become a game of a sort that any young woman who has not had knowledge of it has a mindset that she is not ‘wise’ or have not ‘grown’.
Health experts are alarmed over this menace, decrying that the future is bleak if the ugly situation is not curbed. Professor Olasurubomi Ogedengbe, an obstetrician and gynecologist (OB/GYN) at one of Lagos’ apex public hospitals reportedly explained that there are no guidelines about who can perform abortion, where it can be done, until what gestational age… a butcher can do an abortion and say it was to save a woman’s life, either. This is invariably making mockery of how abortion has been bastardized in the country.
However, one out of every five cases of pregnancy has been said to be unwanted and unplanned for by the pregnant persons; which professionals have said could be the result of consensual or aggressive sexual meetings like rape or incestuous contraventions. In the opinion of connoisseurs, Nigeria’s abortion law came into existence in 1861, which they said although legalises abortion, but part of the provisions of that law still makes abortion a criminal offence. Nigerians are, conversely, of the view that the law belongs to the 17th Century. According to them, it does not tally with the dictates of modern times.
In a 2010 account, Lemmy Ughegbe, the Guardian bureau office, Abuja, noted how the human rights advocate brought to limelight the position of Sarafina Ojimaduka, an advocate of Female Reproductive Rights, during a training of journalists conducted by IPAS. In the words of Ojimaduka as reported by Ughegbe: “Criminalising abortion drives women from hospitals where they could get better medical attention and make them resort to the use of quarks and crude means all in the bid to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.”
Post Abortion Care Network, PAC-Net, which brags as a multi-disciplinary network of individuals and organizations caring for victims and would-be victims of abortion and its complications, and improving women’s reproductive health and rights, had said that it was out to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity in Nigeria through effective post abortion care and related reproductive health services, to promote women’s health and uplift their reproductive rights.
Considering some sections of the law that could help women overcome quackery, Ughegbe had said: Specifically, Section 228 of the Criminal Code provides that “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 seven years.”
Ughegbe went further, saying that Section 229 of Criminal Code provides that “any woman who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, whether she is or is not with a 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 seven years.”
Ughegbe also reiterated that: By a simple rule of interpretation, the phrase “any person” employed in Sections 228 and 229 of the Criminal Code acknowledges that besides medical doctors, there are other health care providers that render such services and specifically section 229 seems to suggest that all that the law requires of them is “Reasonable care and skill”. R V Bourne (1938). The import of this provision is that sadly, the law has failed to protect women from unsafe abortion in the hands of unqualified persons.
The statement goes more that the Criminal and Penal Codes, premised on a law based on a law, which came into force over a century and a half ago, can no longer respond to the realities of the modern times and instead leave the women vulnerable to unsafe abortions and their attendant complications. Nonetheless, Nigeria is signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), yet stipulations yielding assured reproductive health rights to women under the CEDAW regime are out-of-the-way, because they are yet to be cultivated by the Nigerian state through the acts of legislatures, hence there is a moral inconsistency around abortion in the country. This variation is where law, religion, health and human rights crisscross.
Written by Odimegwu Onwumere.
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