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Unsafe abortion: New concerns about an old problem

By Chioma Obinna
Pastor Edward is a renowned man of God. He abhors the very thought of abortion not to speak of the act itself. To him, termination of  a pregnancy whether wanted or not, even when the woman’s life is threatened, is mortal sin. It is totally against the law of nature and of God, he always stated.

The pastor’s abhorrence for abortion once came to bear when the 16- year-old house maid in his hime became pregnant as a result of a sexual misadventure.

Baby in the making. To be or not to be?
Against the girl’s will , Edward put his foot down and insisted there was to be no termination of the unwanted pregnancy. She had to have the baby., he insisted and have the baby she did.

As fate would have it, a few months afterwards, a notorious gang of robbers stormed the same house while the pastor was out of town on a n international crusade. In a dramatic twist, the robberes raped all the women including his own wife.

Rage, anger, frustration almost took over the better part of the whole family. Neither Edward, on his return, nor his wife could narrate the incident to friends or members of the Church.  But the worst was yet to come.

Not too long afterwards, to her utter dread and shock, the pastor’s wife discovered she had become pregnant. It didn’t require a soothsayer to tell her the pregnancy was the outcome of the recent rape incident.

At this point, Edward had an unprecedented change of heart. According to him, he could not imagine his wife having the baby of an armed robber, so the option of an abortion suddenly became attractive.

But as a result of his well known stance on the matter, they could not consult a qualified doctor, rather, he took his wife to a quack and she ended up witha damaged womb. 

The story of Joan, a 22-year-old unmarried and unemployed lady is also instructive. Quite recently, she was rushed into a hospital in Lagos, with a referral from another private hospital. Doctors said she presented with classic symptoms of suspected termination of an unwanted pregnancy.

The procedure was reportedly carried out at a chemist shop during which she bled significantly. A day after the abortion, she developed abdominal distension which progressively increased in size and was painful. She was nauseated and was passing frequent stools.

She was so weak she could hardly walk unaided and was further referred to a gynaecology clinic. A  provisional diagnosis of septic abortion, severe anaemia and renal compromise was made.  Ultrasound revealed pelvic abscess and bilateral renal failure. She was co-managed by the medical team and was transfused with three units of blood before surgery was carried out. 

At surgery, more than 700mls of pus was drained out of her peritoneal cavity. Following surgery, she continued to have fever, vomiting and developed fits, hallucinations and became irrational. 

The renal function deteriorated. Her relatives were informed on the need for dialysis but they declined for lack of finances.  By the 30th day on admission, she deteriorated and passed on. The cause of death was renal failure secondary to septic abortion.

Evelyn’s case is one out of the 34,000 Nigerian women that die annually of complications of unsafe abortion according to the publication by Centre for Reproductive Rights.

In the wake of all these problems, Nigeria has an 1861 abortion law which allows the procedure when the life of the woman is threatened. With this law in place many health watchers are beginning to ask questions about the fate of women who are raped or are victims of incest. 

From statistics, an estimated 46 million pregnancies end in induced abortions each year and 20 million of these are unsafe. About 13 per cent of  pregnancy related deaths have been attributed to unsafe abortions and 80,000 deaths annually.

In Nigeria alone, about 760,000 abortions occur annually despite the country’s restrictive abortion law.

Experts say unsafe abortion is one important reason Nigeria reports one of the world’s highest maternal mortality ratios of 1,000 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Some religious groups are not only kicking against abortion but measures that could have prevented unwanted pregnancies such as family planning through the use of contraception.

Speaking at a three -day training workshop organised by Ipas Nigeria for journalists in Reproductive Health and Rights Development, Consultant Gynaecologist, Dr Emily Nzeribe lamented that Nigerian women may continue to die due to ignorane of the Nigerian society. She said every six minutes, a woman dies needlessly as a result of an unsafe illegal abortion and obstructed labour.

She said for every woman who dies, 20 others are maimed for life, Nzeribe who blamed the sharp rise in the country’s maternal mortality disclosed that unsafe abortion keeps maternal mortality persistently high as it contributes 13 to 40 per cent of maternal deaths in Africa.

According to her, “Unsafe abortion mortality ratio in Africa is 110 deaths per 100,000 live births. On the average each African woman will experience seven unsafe abortions in her reproductive lifetime” 

Calling for provision of safe abortion services to the limit of the law and proper post abortion care services, she stressed the need for the reformation of Nigeria’s abortion law, which she said, will continue to kill more women if noting urgently is done.

Nzeribe opined that Nigeria could still prevent maternal suffering and death from unsafe abortion by improving on the existing law which has made it difficult for Nigeria women to have access to safe abortion services. In his paper entitled, “Abortion and the Law”, Barrister Hauwa Shekarou regretted Nigeria abortion law  fails to protect women from unsafe abortion.

She said the law is no longer responsive to the magnitude of unsafe abortion and its complications. “The legal indications for abortion in Nigeria is quite restrictive, thus making unsafe abortion a silent and persistent pandemic.  Access to abortion services is particularly important for women and girls who are victims of sexual violence, rape and incest. There is a need for a review of our restrictive abortion laws due to the Human Rights implications of unsafe abortion.

She said lack of political will on the part of government will only continue to send Nigerian women to their early graves in large numbers.


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