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WARDC seeks reinstatement of abortion guidelines to tackle unwanted pregnancy from rape, incest

An appeal to save the life of victims of incest, rape and sexual and gender-based violence from aftermaths like unplanned or unwanted pregnancy has been made to the Lagos State Government.

The appeal was made at a webinar held today, tagged, ‘Safe termination of pregnancy: Pink campaign’, and it seeks the reinstatement of the suspended guidelines on safe termination of pregnancy for legal indications.

The webinar was organized by the founder/director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, and over 150 women rights and civil society organizations.

According to Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, her centre and other stakeholders are deeply concerned about the neglect of this preventable issue due to certain provisions in Nigeria’s abortion laws that are yet to be reformed to align with international commitments on women’s reproductive rights.

“We also request for the guidelines to make provision for termination of pregnancy in cases of incest, rape and sexual and gender-based violence,” said Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi.

Dr Akiyode-Afolabi said unsafe abortion remains a significant contributor to maternal deaths in Nigeria, constituting 10% of the global maternal death rate and standing as the second leading cause of maternal mortality in Nigeria.

“In 2017 alone, 212,000 women out of an estimated two million annually who had abortions sought treatment for complications; while 285,000 did not receive the necessary care for the severe health consequences they faced.

“This underscores the urgency to address the situation, especially in light of Nigeria’s commitment to achieving the 2030 Global Sustainable Development Goals, targeting universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services,” she stated.

Continuing, Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi said, “We commend the steps taken by the Lagos State Government on June 29, 2022 to present and launch the policy document titled ‘Lagos State Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications.'”

She said this comprehensive 40-page document sets out guidelines to standardize and build capacity for medical professionals, saving lives of pregnant women when continuation poses a danger to their lives and physical health.

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“It aligns with existing laws and domesticates the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act [VAPP] Section 38, supporting victims of rape and sexual violence. Regrettably, the suspension of these crucial guidelines on July 8, 2022 has raised concerns.

“We understand that certain religious, cultural, and philosophical convictions oppose the document developed over four years. However, it is imperative to recognize the extensive work by legal and medical experts that has created an opportunity to reduce maternal mortality in line with existing laws,” she explained .

Adding that the guidelines acknowledge legal indications, including obstetrics and gynaecological conditions, heart and vascular diseases, kidney diseases, cancers, blood diseases, psychiatric and other mental disorders, and other conditions.

She said, “The denial of safe abortion care to survivors of rape not only violates the right to health and privacy, but also may infringe upon the prohibition of ill-treatment.

“As a nation bound by the provisions of the Maputo Protocol, which guarantees women’s right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, Nigeria must take all appropriate measures to protect reproductive rights, authorizing medical abortion in specific cases.

“The Lagos State guidelines detail safe therapeutic abortion methods, including both medical and surgical procedures. The pre- and post-procedure care stipulations ensure the identification and addressal of complications, achieving the goal of reducing repeated unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions.”

Dr Akiyode-Afolabi said, “International organizations, including the World Health Organization, International Federation of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, Amnesty International, United Nations, and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, have consistently advocated for women’s right to decide on abortion.”

And she called on the Lagos State Government to reinstate the suspended Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications.

“While we understand that various sentiments may surround this matter, we emphasize the importance of prioritizing women’s health, rights, and lives. The guidelines were developed to save women from preventable deaths, and the suspension undermines this crucial objective.

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“We appreciate your attention to this matter and trust that the Lagos State Government will consider the well-being and rights of women in making decisions regarding the Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications,” she added.

Secretary General and Projects coordinator of Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria (SOGON), Dr. Kehinde Okunade, said it will be highly beneficial to Lagos State if the legal framework/guidelines are adopted because many lives will not only be saved, “but many Lagos health staff aren’t aware that they can offer medical termination of pregnancy, and save victims from patronizing quacks with its evil implications.’

Ngozi Nwozu-Juba of Vision Spring Initiative said Nigeria spends more trying to save lives of those who patronize quacks for abortion, but can save both lives and funds if right frameworks and guidelines are put in place.

“We firmly believe that women should have the autonomy to make choices about their bodies,” Nwozu-Juba said.

Theresa Arike
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