Gavel: Blog

ABORTION IN NIGERIA: Is It Time For a More Liberal Stance?

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Abortion is the termination of pregnancy before the age of viability. It can also be described as the expulsion or extraction from its mother, a foetus or an embryo Abortion is said to be spontaneous when the pregnancy terminates on its own and is induced when the pregnancy is intentionally terminated. Studies have shown that for every 1000 women of child bearing age, 35 are estimated to have an induced abortion. The major reason for induced abortion is unwanted pregnancy. Pregnancies may not be wanted for social reasons like rape, teenage pregnancies, economic, cultural, and medical reasons. This however varies amongst different population groups depending on socioeconomic status, religion, marital status, level of education as well as the fertility status of the woman. Abortion has moral, religious, cultural, human rights and public health implications. All of these interplay in the present state of affairs concerning abortion issues in the world.

Sex and most especially, unprotected sex are trends amongst young people in Nigeria and likewise all around the world. With the increase in the popularity and liberal approach to sex, the rate at which young people especially girls seek abortions have also escalated.

These are usually done through unconventional and dangerous means.

Legal Provisions and regulations on abortion in Nigeria are found in the Criminal Code Act and Penal Code Act in Nigeria. These are criminal laws in Nigeria but they differ based on geographical location. The Penal code covers the Northern states of Nigeria while the Criminal Code covers the Southern states in Nigeria. Before going into the actual provisions of these Acts on abortion,

The general position of the law on abortion in Nigeria is that it is prohibited. This is recognized by both the Criminal Code Act and the Penal Code Act. But there are marked differences in the provisions of both. Let’s consider them:

The Criminal Code Act provides that:

Any person that has the intent of causing the miscarriage of a woman whether she is actually pregnant or not; and who, with such intent, unlawfully gives her or causes her to take any poison or even uses force of any kind on her, is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years. Note that this applies to a person other than the woman herself.

Now, this is for the woman herself. Where a woman has the intent of causing her own miscarriage whether she is actually pregnant or not; and she unlawfully takes any poison or uses any force of any kind on herself, or even allows such to be used on her, she is guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for seven years.

Where a person unlawfully supplies to a woman or buys for the woman anything knowing that what he bought is intended to be unlawfully used to cause a woman’s miscarriage, whether she is indeed pregnant or not; that person is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for three years.

However, there are cases where abortion or inducing a miscarriage may be lawful. This include:

Where a person, in good faith and with reasonable care and skill performs a surgical operation on a person for his benefit, he is not criminally responsible. The important consideration here is that the performance of the operation is reasonable considering the patient’s state and all other circumstances of the particular case.

He is also not criminally responsible where he performs a surgical operation in good faith and with reasonable care and skill on an unborn child for the preservation of the mother’s life. The important consideration here is also that the performance of the operation is reasonable considering the patient’s state and all other circumstances of the particular case. 

The Penal Code Act

Where a person voluntarily causes a pregnant woman to miscarry (where this is not done in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of the woman) such a person will be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to fourteen years or with fine or with both. Where a woman causes herself to miscarry, she is guilty of the above too. Note how miscarriage which is done in good faith in order to save the life of a pregnant woman does not render a person guilty of an offence.

Where a person with intent to cause a woman to miscarry (whether she is indeed pregnant or not), does an act which causes the death of the woman, that person shall be punished: With imprisonment which may extend to fourteen years and shall also be liable to a fine. If the person did the act without the woman’s consent then it is life imprisonment or a less term and he shall also be liable to a fine.

The above provisions eschewed the serious nature of abortion and induced miscarriage in Nigeria. This has however not deterred persons with unwanted pregnancies. In fact, this has opened them to more danger and pushed them to taking extreme measures to terminate such pregnancies at great risks to their lives.

An interesting perspective to the provisions of the extant laws of Nigeria to abortion is that what happens to victims of rape, abuse and incest?

The law is notoriously quiet on this. Does this mean they will be forced to keep the baby? Will they be forced to nurture a child borne out of sadness and misery?

To view this with a realistic prism; the news of the release of the famous Chibok girls by the notorious terrorist group, Boko Haram, was met with pomp and pageantry. It was however discovered that whilst in captivity, many amongst the girls were raped continually by the insurgents and this vile act led to some of the girls getting pregnant. Due to the harsh anti-abortion laws in Nigeria, the government had no choice but to provide ante-natal care for the pregnant girls.

The emotional and psychological trauma of rape on victims cannot be over-emphasized. This can become much more complicated and worse for the victims with the discovery of a pregnancy stemming from the traumatic experience they went through. The law in Nigeria takes cognizance of the physical health of the woman however, the psychological aspect has been largely neglected by our laws. I think this needs to change.

Various countries around the world has embraced the need to cater for the reproductive and mental health of women. Nigeria can also emulate this.

Even in the most conservative countries of the world like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, a woman can have access to legal abortion to preserve her psychological health in situations of rape and incest.

It’s time for Nigeria to step up for women’s reproductive and mental health. In nit?

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