Legal/JudiciaryNews

Abortion: Lift suspension on guidelines, Group tells Lagos governor 

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos was on Friday charged to lift the suspension on the guidelines on ‘Safe Termination of Pregnancy’ for legal Indications.

Making the call, the Women Rights and Civil Society Organisations also maintained that women have rights to their bodily integrity and life. The group also stressed that the ‘Safe Termination of Pregnancy for legal Indications’ is meant to save women from preventable death.

It is recalled that Lagos State, through the Directorate of Family Health and Nutrition in the state’s ministry of health had on June 29, 2022, presented a 40-page policy document titled ‘Lagos State Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications’ to set out guidelines for safe termination of pregnancy within the ambit of the Criminal Law of Lagos State.

The guidelines are meant to standardize and build capacity for medical professionals to save the lives of pregnant women whose pregnancy continuation is a danger to their lives and physical health.

However, a few days after, the State Government on July 8, 2022, directed the suspension of the Guidelines.

Speaking at a press conference held in Lagos, the Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi posited that the State Government is being blackmailed by religious sentiments, and by persons with certain philosophical convictions to suspend the Guidelines.

Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi argued that the document was a  painstaking work by experts in Law, Obstetrics, and Gynaecology, and has created an opportunity to reduce maternal mortality in line with existing laws.

She warned that failure to lift the suspension may lead the Groups to occupy the governor’s office to press home their demands.

According to her, “Nigeria is obligated to implement 2030 Global Sustainable Development Goals agreed by world governments at the United Nations in September 2015, with a target of universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services.”

She lamented that the current abortion law in Nigeria was instituted by the British ‘Offences Against Persons Act, Section 58’, in the 19th century, which has not been repealed or amended.

Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi further explained that the Lagos State Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications detailed safe therapeutic abortion methods and defined therapeutic abortion as a termination of a pregnancy, performed when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life, physical or mental health, or when the fetus has a condition incompatible with normal life.

According to her, “Unsafe Abortion accounts for a high number of maternal deaths in Nigeria. 10% of the global maternal death rate comes from unsafe abortions in Nigeria, making it the second leading cause of maternal mortality in the country. This is a neglected major area of preventable maternal deaths due to provisions of Nigerian Abortion Laws.

“Nigeria is yet to comprehensively reform restrictive domestic laws and policies that place women and girls’ health and lives at risk and prevent them from exercising their reproductive rights which the Nigerian government has been committed to under international law. In 2017, 212,000 women out of 2 million annually estimated to have had abortions were treated for complications while 285,000 never received treatments for the severe health consequences they faced.

“Nigeria is obligated to implement 2030 Global Sustainable Development Goals agreed by world governments at the United Nations in September 2015, with a target of universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services. The current abortion law in Nigeria was instituted by the British Offences Against Persons Act, Section 58, in the 19th century and has not been repealed or amended. 

“Indications is modelled after the National Guidelines for Legal Indications (2018) prepared by the Federal Ministry of Health to provide guidance to medical practitioners and other stakeholders on when it is lawful or unlawful to do any acts qualified by the use of the word “unlawful” in sections 145,146,147 and 201. 

“A person cannot be arrested for a medical abortion validated by Section 201 of Criminal Law of Lagos State. The new law provides two lawful grounds for which abortion can be carried out: preservation of a mother’s life and preservation of a woman’s physical health.

“The denial of safe abortion care to survivors of rape violates the right to health and privacy and may violate the prohibition of ill-treatment. Nigeria is bound by the provisions of Maputo Protocol which is the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. It is the main legal instrument for the protection of the rights of women and girls in Africa.”

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