About 1.25 million abortions occur in Nigeria every year. For this reason, the country is losing most of its daughters to unsafe abortion which is still restricted under the Nigerian law. JOYCE REMI- BABAYEJU takes a look at the dangers of unsafe abortion and why safe abortion should be legalized to save lives of women.
AMINAT Ibrahim, a young college girl from Lagos State was just 16 years old when she was raped by a secret admirer who always accosted her each day on her way back from school. Unknown to Amina, the rapist had planned to put her through a sexual ordeal if she refuses him one more time. Unfortunately, after being sexually violated, she got pregnant from that first attempt of rape. Like many girls who have been raped, Aminat was afraid to tell anyone her sad story, not even her mother or her friends. Aminat’s mother, Mrs Idayat Ibrahim, a petty trader said, she usually gets back home very late and each time noticed that her daughter was always on bed until one bad day when the story changed. She was arrived home early enough to see her daughter writhing in pain in a pool of blood. Aminat was rushed to a private hospital where doctors told her mother that she had attempted to induce her pregnancy. Aminat has attempted an unsafe abortion by drinking all sorts of concoctions she bought from a patent medicine store far away from her neighbourhood. Mrs Ibrahim said that it was only a miracle that Aminat is still alive today to tell her story. She said the doctor on duty congratulated her for bringing her dying daughter on time to the clinic if not she would have died. Thank God Aminat is alive but with complications that can prevent her from carrying pregnancies and becoming a mother in future. Mrs Ibrahim, in an emotion-laden voice thanked God for spearing the life of her daughter instead of losing her to the cold hands of untimely death. If had wasted one more second, her daughter would have died, she reminiscenced. According to a research conducted by a United States-based Guttmacher Institute, and Ipas, a Non-Governmental Organisation dedicated to improving women’s lives through focus on reproductive health, over 1.25 million abortions are carried out in Nigeria every year. The Guttmacher Institute, 2012, reports that 1.25 million induced abortions occur annually and 60,000 are unsafe. Out of which more than 140,000 women are hospitalized for abortion complications and up to 10,000 maternal deaths occur annually due to unsafe abortions. Guttmacher Institute in 1996 reported that Nigerian women do approximately 610,000 abortions, at the rate of 25 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 each year. These figures are estimated to have increased to 760,000 in 2006. The research further revealed that only 40% of abortions are performed by physicians with improved health facilities while the remaining percentage is performed by non-physicians. And vulnerable Aminat is one of the 1.25 million Nigerian daughters involved in unsafe abortion simply because they cannot walk up to health workers or even family members to relate their gory stories of how they were forcefully impregnated and that they want it removed. This figure, experts say, is just a tip of the iceberg from the numerous clandestine unsafe abortions occurring without records. Most women who resort to unsafe abortions do so because they find themselves carrying unwanted pregnancies which would eventually become a burden or even stigma on them later. Experts say unsafe abortions are carried out by fake or unskilled workers secretly and in unhygienic environments. Some of the implements used in performing induced or unsafe abortion include cassava plant leaves and stem, alligator pepper, native chalk, native alum and even robin blue used in using clothes, strong drink mixed with lime and other concoctions. Abortion is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy, usually before the embryo or foetus is capable of independent life. Medically it is called induced abortion and it is different from spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or stillbirth. World Health Organization, WHO, defines unsafe abortion as a procedure for terminating a pregnancy that is performed by an individual lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that is not hygienic. Safe abortion is that carried out by a skilled healthcare worker in a hygienic environment. According to Hauwa Shekarau, Ipas Nigeria, Country Director, in Abuja recently at Ipas training of Journalists on Increasing Community Awareness on Women Sexual Reproductive Health Rights, WSRHRs; in a presentation said, ‘’women’s health is human right to health that requires health systems account for the distinctive needs and circumstances both of and among women.’’ Dr Godwin Akaba, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at University of Abuja Teaching Hospital and a resource person at Ipas training said that Nigeria is one of the unsafest places for a woman to get pregnant owing to the number of post-abortion treatments he has handled and that unsafe abortion is one of the major killers of women in Nigeria. Akaba said that an estimated 1.25 million induced abortions occur in Nigeria yearly which is equivalent to a rate of 33 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 – 49 years and that unsafe abortion contributes 13% of maternal deaths in Nigeria and that ‘’One out of 4 women end up in miscarriages and 20 women out of 100 would have had a miscarriage at one time of their lives, adding that 168,000 pregnant women die yearly, he said. According to the gynaecologist, about 212,00 women were treated for complications of unsafe abortion which represents a treatment rate of 5.6% and in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT , where he practices unsafe abortion accounts for 15.3% of maternal deaths. He said that most of the factors associated with increased morbidity in women’s health are from abortion, lack of access to safe abortion services and lack of contraception access and use resulting in unwanted pregnancies.
Nearly 100 women die each day in Africa from abortion-related complications. More than 5 million unsafe abortions occur each year and more than half of the 67,000 global deaths from unsafe abortion take place in Africa, these deaths are preventable which makes them even more tragic, Akaba said. In a presentation on the causes of maternal deaths globally, Akaba gave the figure as 67,000 deaths ear year due to unsafe abortion. Unsafe abortion at 13%, infection 15%, severe bleeding 24%, indirect causes 20%, Eclampsia 12%, obstructed labour 8%, other causes 8%. Despite the turnover of unsafe abortions and unwanted pregnancies, Nigeria is still operating the Abortion Law borrowed from ‘’The English Offences against the Persons Act 1861‘’ of United Kingdom. The 17thcentury law obviously has outlived its purpose and as societies change so are the realities of modern times. Nigeria’s obsolete abortion law of over 150 years since it was borrowed obviously contributes to the many cases of unsafe abortion of pregnancies which most times is as a result of rape, incest relationships and pregnancy complications. Hauwa Shekarau, Ipas Nigeria Country Director, in a presentation on ‘’Unsafe Abortion and the Law”, decried the obsolete Abortion law and called for a review of the code pertaining to the sexual and reproductive rights of women in Nigeria. ‘’Nigeria operates multiple sources of law namely statutory, customary and Islamic laws. The statutes relating to Abortion in Nigeria are criminal codes applicable in the Southern states and the Penal codes applicable in the Northern states.’’ ‘’In the Criminal Code sections 228-230; 297 on Abortion- section 228 states: ‘Any person who with intent to procure miscarriage of a woman where 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.’ ‘’Section 229 states: ‘Any woman who with the intent to procure her own miscarriage, 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.’’’ A lot of young girls and women are daily being raped in addition to the alarming incidence of incest, does this mean that victims of sexual violence should be allowed to carry unwanted pregnancies from such sexual violence and be forced to live with such trauma for the rest of their lives? Nigeria must help to stop unsafe abortion by signing legitimate and safe Abortion into law in order to save its daughters and to eliminate the prevalence of maternal mortality.