In 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, so strong was the Catholic position against abortion as a family planning deviceÂ that the Confab was dubbed ‘The Abortion Conference’.
Fifteen years after,Â the Catholics are at it again, this time in Owerri whereÂ they marched against a bill seeking to legalise abortion. Chidi Nkwopara reports.
THE crusade to legalise abortion did not start from Nigeria. It remains an imported phenomenon and now propagated by pro-abortion groups like IPPF, Ipas, Society for Family Health, UNICEF, USAID and a host of others. A number of people, including Dr. Ejike Orji, have for a long,Â remained very committed to this crusade.
It has been alleged that Dr. Orjiâ€™s non-governmental establishment, as well as other groups have received funds from donors to promoteÂ Women Reproductive Rights in Nigeria.
This group and their acolytes introduced this Bill in the National Assembly but suffered crushing defeat in their attempt to make it a national law.
The story was slightly different in Anambra State as the lawmakers in that state passed the BillÂ without batting an eyelid. With this puerile success in Anambra State, the pro-abortion groups recruited some willing partners in Imo State House of Assembly.
The likes of the Majority Leader, Dr. John Egbuchulam, the Deputy Speaker, Sir Jonas Okeke, Nze Ray Emeana, Mrs. Oyibo Nwaneri, Chris Eboh, Ifeanyi Agwu, Louis Chukwu, Obioma Ekennia, Samuel Anyanwu, Simeon Iwunze, Stan Dara, Clinton Amadi and Mike Iheanetu. These names were clearly written on the Order Paper of the Imo House of Assembly on April 23, 2009.
As the Majority Leader, it was incumbent on Dr. Egbuchulam to present the controversial Bill before the House. It was tagged â€œA Bill for Law to Provide for Certain Reproductive Rights of the Women and Other Related Mattersâ€.
After passing the initial legislative processes, the Speaker, Chief Goodluck Nanah Opiah, announced the setting up of an ad-hoc committee to feel the pulse of the citizenry and send in their report.
Before the appointed day, June 1, 2009, for the public hearing, the Catholic Church sensitised its adherents on the import of the controversial Bill.
The state branch of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) did a similar thing and before 7.15am, more than 4,500 Christians drawn from all the Catholic parishes in the Dioceses of Orlu, Okigwe, Mbaise and Owerri had converged in the premises of Maria Assumpta Catholic Cathedral, Owerri.
Their target was to proceed peacefully to the Imo State House of Assembly to register their protest against the pro-abortion Bill.
Surprisingly, some lawmakers, including Stan Dara, Clinton Amadi, Obioma Ekennia, Pius Nwoga (Jnr), Mbadiwe Emelumba, Ikenna Eme, madean unscheduled early morning visit to the Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Most rev. Dr. Anthony J.V.
Obinna, in his court. After discussing with the cleric, the Archbishop asked his guests to explain their visit to the people, who were already waiting to begin the programmed but peaceful protest march to the House of Assembly.
Addressing the people, the member representing Orsu state constituency, Stan Dara, explained that some of the lawmakers whose names were included as co-sponsors of the Bill have retraced their steps. He also disclosed that the names of some lawmakers, who were believed to be co-sponsoring the Bill, were included without their explicit consent.
Arguing that â€œthe provisions of the Bill is bad before God and manâ€, Stan Dara noted that â€œthe whole idea behind the Bill is to legalise the killing of some unborn babies and leaving the others to liveâ€.
After promising that â€œthe Bill will die after a protracted illness instead of the usual brief illnessâ€, Dara appealed to the Archbishop to bring not more than 50 persons to the venue of the public hearing.
The protest march, which was led by Archbishop Obinna, included Bishop Solomon Amatu of Okigwe Diocese, Bishop Augustine Ukwuoma of Orlu Diocese, scores of Catholic priests and nuns, members of Catholic Women Organization (CWO), Catholic Men Organization (CMO), as well as thousands of Christians from the Catholic parishes in Imo State.
It was however strange that none of the Anglican, Methodist and Pentecostal bishops and general overseers took part in the protest march.
Some of the placards carried by the protesters read: â€œI am a child not a choice, I am proud to be a mother, If you were aborted, would you have been lawmakers?, No free sex, Respect the dignity of women, Abortion is a crime, Abortion is an abomination, The unborn child has a right to liveâ€.
The lawmakers obviously became panicky when they saw the huge crowd in the Assembly Complex. No fewer than four of them, especially the Deputy Speaker, Sir Jonas Okeke, Mbadiwe Emelumba, Obioma Ekennia and Henry Igbomezie, were seen passionately appealing to the women who had already found their way upstairs, to leave.
They immediately started chanting all manner of anti-abortion songs as soon as they got to the entrance door.
A Consultant Physician and Chairman, African Anti-Abortion Coalition (AAAC), Dr. Phillip Njemanze, drew the attention of the House that Section 6 of the controversial Bill empowers the state government to authorise abortions, in violation of the Fundamental Human Right to Life statute of Chapter IV, Section 33, of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.
He also accused the assemblymen of undertaking legislation on issues that border on Fundamental Human Rights, which is on the Exclusive Legislative List of the National Assembly in the Second Schedule, Part 1, of the nationâ€™s Constitution.
â€œThe deceptively worded sections of the Imo State Womenâ€™s Reproductive Right Bill 2009, in Sections 6(a) (b) and 6(1) and (2) clearly provided that the choice of the woman shall be paramount on matters of control of her fertility, timing, number and spacing of their children, choice of method of fertility control and family planningâ€, Njemanze said.
It was his opinion that in providing that, the health of the woman shall be paramount to all considerations of reproductive rights, the framers of the law meant to say that under international and national legal interpretation, Womenâ€™s Reproductive Rights empowers the woman to choose all methods, including abortion and other forms of contraception to achieve child-spacing without consent of the husband.
Archbishop Obinna made a 10-point submission to the ad-hoc committee of the Assembly on behalf of Catholic Bishops in Imo State. In the opinion of the Bishops, the main thrust of the Bill mechanically isolate womenâ€™s sexuality and fertility from their dignified human, religious, family and social contexts.
They also fumed that the Bill grants women an autonomous supremacy over their sexuality and fertility that includes free sex and free access to abortion and called on the assemblymen to reject the Bill.
â€œWhile I commend and will commend genuine efforts made to improve the overall health of our women and girls, I am in conscience and before God bound to denounce any legislation that gives the human the freedom to use his or her body to do what he or she likes, to terminate life as he or she decidesâ€, Obinna told the lawmakers.
Continuing, the fiery Catholic cleric said that while appreciating the positive role the Commissioner for Health can play in improving womenâ€™s healthcare, he cannot be the ultimate judge in Imo State or elsewhere, over who lives or dies, even in cases involving any form of sexual assault.
â€œFundamentally at stake in the proposed Bill is the sacredness and dignity of every human person, which affects women and children in a very intimate way.
In his providence, God has assigned the sacred mission of conceiving children and giving birth to them to women. Abortion, the deliberate murder of innocent and helpless children is a crime before God and humanityâ€, the Archbishop fumed.
It was interesting to find some women organisations, such as Medical Women Association of Nigeria (MWAN), Women Advancement for Economic and Leadership Empowerment (WAELE), National Council for Women Societies (NCWS) and National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), calling for the passage of the Bill.
They hinged their stand on what they termed â€œthe numerous deaths arising from pregnancy and child birth in Imo Stateâ€.
In her presentation, MWAN boss, Dr. Nma Nwokocha, a gynaecologist, opined that the passage of the Bill would guarantee the safety of Imo women during pregnancy and child birth.
On the abortion aspect of the Bill, which has generated so much controversy, Nwokocha observed that 34,000 Nigerian women die every year from incidences of unsafe abortion because the Nigerian law encourages the existence of quacks.
Obviously intimidated by the number of people who stormed the Assembly Complex to kick against the Bill, the lawmakers unanimously agreed to throw out the controversial Bill.
Their action came barely 24 hours after more than 4,500 Christians, led by the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Dr. Anthony J. V. Obinna, besieged the House to protest the proposed law.
The controversial Bill was killed at the committee of the whole House presided over by the Speaker, Chief Goodluck Nanah Opiah, during which the State assemblymen also deliberated on the report of the joint committee on health and judiciary.
Vanguard Features , VF recalls that at the end of the deliberation on the joint committee report, the House adopted the recommendation of the joint committee report that the Women Reproductive Rights Bill be rejected in view of the opinion of majority of participants at the public hearing that the Bill was fashioned to legalise abortion in the state.
Some of the lawmakers, who spoke in favour of the Bill during its second reading as co-sponsors quickly did a somersault and dramaticallyÂ drew their support for the bill..