Nigeria possesses some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. The laws which are deeply rooted in conservative cultural and religious beliefs make abortion a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment. The stark reality though, is that the rate of abortion in Nigeria is on the rise with an estimated 456,000 abortions caried out annually despite these laws.
These restrictions mean that women in Nigeria are denied access to safe abortion options and often times opt for clandestine and dangerous means of terminating unintended pregnancies. It is not uncommon to hear anti-abortion supporters make statements like “every action has its consequence” or” if you didn’t want to get pregnant, you should have closed your legs” as rationale for the illegality of abortion. But life happens and unintended pregnancies occur far more often than we would want to admit and as such, shaming women is not the solution .
I never really gave any thought to abortion until I was in my third year at university. Then, I had a roommate who wasn’t quite a roommate. For the purpose of this article, we shall refer to her as Vicky. Ideally, the room ought to have been a four-man room but she had apparently been swindled by the porters in the hostel complex where my dorm room was situated. Left without room or a refund and facing the possibility of having to “float”, I and my 3 other roommates allowed her to stay the school year with us. You can then imagine our shock when Vicky informed us that she would also be bringing her 16-year-old sister Tolu, to live in the room as well. We eventually agreed largely because she was already a member of our close-knit dorm family. Her sister had begun to live with us by mid second semester. However, because Tolu wasn’t a student, she had a lot of spare time on her hands and would roam the nooks and crannies of the campus. Unfortunately, she got pregnant by a senior lecturer who took advantage of her desperation for admission and enticed her with promises of helping her secure admission. It was a big scandal. Vicky and her mother were so heartbroken. Then the question arose “what happens to the pregnancy”? It was the first time I ever gave any real thought to abortion. Tolu’s family decided that she should get an abortion. The next question was ‘where to safely get an abortion’? In the end, she was taken to an auxiliary nurse who lived in one of the slums close to the campus.
Subsequently, I have had numerous conversations with women who have had to undergo abortions in the most unsafe and unsanitary conditions without any proper medical attention. I’ve even heard stories of some who have died in this process. One thing that doesn’t cease to amaze me is how something so prevalent is such a taboo subject. There are not enough women speaking up on their experiences and clamoring for safer options.
Women opt for abortions for various reasons. Some due to pregnancies arising out of sexual assault, some for physical/health reasons and others because they simply are not ready to take on the life altering responsibility of being a parent. Whatever the reason, abortions take a great psychological toll and is often accompanied by bouts of guilt which is reinforced by religious and socio-cultural norms. Nonetheless, the problem goes far beyond abortion and extends to our attitude as a society towards sex and sex education, birth control, family planning options and accessibility to these options. In the next article, we will look at each of these problems and consider possible reforms and solutions.