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April 22, 2024
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SOGON, WARDC seek reinstatement of Lagos law on safe abortion

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By Oluwafunke Ishola
The Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria (SOGON) and Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) have called for reinstatement of guidelines on safe termination of pregnancy in Lagos State.


Dr Kehinde Okunade, General-Secretary, SOGON, Lagos, made the call on Monday in an online meeting with the theme, “Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Incest, Rape and Other Diseases: Launch of Signature Campaign”.


He appealed to the Lagos State Government to lift the suspension on the ‘Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications’, to reduce preventable deaths.


He also requested for guidelines for termination of pregnancy in cases of sexual and gender-based violence.


Okunade said that the guidelines would serve as a tool for safe termination of pregnancy within the legal framework in circumstances whereby the continuation of such pregnancies threatened the life or mental health of the woman.


He said the intention was to standardise practice, build the capacity of medical personnel in identifying pregnancies for which the law was intended to institute ethical and safe management.


Okunade said that many women had risked their lives in a bid to terminate pregnancy from unskilled health practitioners.


“The implementation of the guidelines will contribute in the reduction of maternal morbidity and mortality in Lagos, and by extension Nigeria,” he said.


Mrs Ngozi Nwosu-Juba, a rights activist and Project Director, Vision Spring Initiatives, said government spent huge sums of money in correcting unsafe abortions to save lives of women.


According to her, such finance can be diverted to ensuring that women and girls, especially rape and incest survivors get unhindered access to safe abortion as well as sexual and reproductive health services to enhance their well-being.


Speaking further, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Executive Director, WARDC, decried the increase in reported cases of rape and incest in Lagos and across the country, with many of the cases resulting in pregnancy.


Akiyode-Afolabi noted that restrictions on abortion hinder women and girls (minors) from accessing abortion services within the healthcare system.


She said that unsafe abortion contributed to maternal death in the country, constituting 10 per cent of the global maternal death rate and a second leading cause of maternal mortality in Nigeria.


“We are deeply concerned about the neglect of this preventable issue due to provisions in Nigeria’s abortion laws, which are yet to be reformed to align with international commitments on women’s reproductive rights.


“In 2017, about 212,000 women out of two million, annually, estimated to have had abortions were treated for complications, while 285,000 of the number never received treatments for the severe health consequences they faced.


“This number is on the rise,” she said.


According to Akiyode-Afolabi, denial of safe abortion care to survivors of rape violates the right to health and privacy stipulated in the now repealed guidelines.


“This situation leaves the rape and incest victims with no option than to resort to self-help and quack doctors, often leading to health complications and death. These deaths are avoidable.


“We cannot continue to look on as women with ill-health, and victims of rape and incest continue to die from unsafe abortions.


“These girls and women are traumatised by their situation and should not be denied access to abortions to preserve their health and dignity,” she said.


Akiyode-Afolabi said it was important to urgently address the situation, considering Nigeria’s commitment to achieving the 2030 Global Sustainable Development Goals.

According to her, the goals target universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services.


She commended the Lagos State Government for presenting the guidelines, but said that it was not wise to have allowed politics to jeopardise the interest of the majority of the people.


The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that 150 Women Rights and Civil Society Organisations signed an appeal letter to the state government, seeking reinstatement of the guidelines.


The CSOs include WARDC, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA); Nigeria Network of NGOs; Women Wing of Christian Association of Nigeria, NASFAT and Mirabal Centre, among others.


NAN recalls that Lagos State, on June 28, 2022, set out guidelines for safe termination of pregnancy within the ambit of the state’s criminal law.


However, the state government on July 7, 2022, directed that the guidelines be suspended following controversies that trailed the launch of the document.


The 40-page document titled, “Lagos State Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications”, was issued by the ministry’s Directorate of Family Health and Nutrition.


The guidelines acknowledged legal indications, including obstetrics and gynaecological conditions; heart and vascular diseases; kidney diseases, cancers, blood diseases, psychiatric or other mental disorders, and other conditions as reasons for the practice.


The document acknowledged that the therapeutic termination of pregnancy was permissible under the state’s law.


Absence of clear guidelines however stalled its effective implementation at the appropriate levels of care, resulting in preventable deaths. (NAN)

Edited by Chidi Opara/Olawunmi Ashafa

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