Safe Termination of Pregnancy: 150 Women Groups Ask Sanwo-Olu to Lift Guidelines’ Suspension
Over 150 Women Rights and Civil Society Organisations have called on the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to immediately lift suspension on the guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indicators.
The groups maintained that women have rights to their bodily integrity and to life, stressing that the ‘Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indicators’ is meant to save women from preventable death.
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 Indicators’ to set out guidelines for safe termination of pregnancy within the ambit of the Criminal Law of Lagos State.
The guidelines are meant to standardise and build capacity for medical professionals to save lives of pregnant women whose pregnancy continuation is a danger to their lives and physical health.
However few days after, the state government on July 8, 2022 ordered the suspension of the Guidelines.
Addressing a press conference yesterday in Lagos, the Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, alleged that the state government is being blackmailed by religious sentiments, and by persons with certain philosophical convictions to suspend the Guidelines.
Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi stated that the document was a painstaking work by experts in Law, in Obstetrics, Gynaecology, adding that the Guideline 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was instituted by the British ‘Offences Against Persons Act, Section 58’ in the 19th century, which has not been repealed or amended.
Akiyode-Afolabi 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.
She said, “Unsafe Abortion accounts for a high number of maternal deaths in Nigeria. 10 per cent of 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 two 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.
“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 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.”
She added that “Article 14 of the Maputo Protocol guarantees women’s right to health, including sexual and reproductive health. Under Article 14 (2) (c) of the Maputo Protocol, States Parties are called upon to take all appropriate measures to “protect the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus”.
“Several international organisations such as World Health Organisation, International Federation of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, the Amnesty International, United Nations and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have repeatedly issued guidelines to indicate women have a right to decide on whether or not to have an abortion. It is her body, it should be her choice! One of the long term outcomes of the Guidelines is to ensure reproductive choice for women faces with unintended pregnancy.
“The development and dissemination of the policy document showed Lagos leading state-level intervention on unsafe abortion while giving women and girls improved healthcare. It cannot be over-emphasised that the Guidelines need to be passed and not withdrawn.
“We therefore call on Lagos State Government to immediately lift the suspension on the guidelines, we believe that the state government is being blackmailed by religious sentiments, women have a right to their bodily integrity and to life what the guidelines is pushing for us to save women from a good preventable death. The ban on the Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications should immediately be lifted.”