Worried by the rise in rape cases in the state, which often led to unplanned pregnancy of victims and the attendant consequences, the Ogun State Government recently launched a document tagged Safe Termination of Pregnancy (STOP), which permits abortion under some clinical and social conditions, Daily Trust reports.
At the launch of the document, which specified circumstances that could allow for termination of pregnancy in certain cases, the immediate past Commissioner for Health, Dr Tomi Coker, said it was aimed at empowering health personnel to carry out abortion under certain circumstances.
“There has been a law in place in Nigeria and Ogun State that tells us in what situation abortion can be carried out. We want to avoid misinterpretation of that and also empower our clinicians to carry out their duties within the boundaries of the laws of the land, that is why we have articulated it in black and white,” he said.
The launch was attended by health experts, religious leaders and other stakeholders.
With the document, the government permitted abortion in limited circumstances: in cases of rape, incest, cancer, and hypertension among others.
Coker said the new agreement, which received support from various parties, including state leaders, both Muslim and Christian, does not mean that the government has legalised abortion.
According to her, the goal of creating the document was to lower the number of avoidable deaths among mothers-to-be and victims of domestic abuse.
Coker said the policy provides standard medical management for victims of Gender Based Violence (GBV).
“I like to point out that this document is important for healthcare workers who encounter women in this category. It must be emphasised that Ogun State does not legalise abortion.
“What we are doing is giving standardised medical service for women who find themselves in certain situations such as rape, incest, cancer, and hypertension, among others.
“There are legal situations where a pregnancy cannot continue and what we are doing is to make sure these women have access to medical care,” Coker said.
The Executive Secretary, Primary Health Care Development Board, Dr Elijah Ogunsola, said the dissemination of the policy further strengthened the commitment of the administration to ensure the right to health of women.
He said it would also guarantee the coming generation of women the right to live meaningful reproductive life.
In their separate goodwill messages, the Country Director, IPAS, Mr Lucky Pama and State Coordinator, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Victoria Adebiyi, commended the government for prioritising the health of women.
It said the dissemination of the documents was a show of care, honour and respect for the vulnerable in society.
The representative of the League of Imams and Alfas, Dr Rabiu Kushimo backed the initiative.
“What the government has done now is to make sure that people who are entitled to people who should have, people who have been naturally predisposed to abortion, to have a safe abortion through competent, trained hands in a safe place so that the outcome can be good for everyone,” he said.
The Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Dr Stephen Adeyemi, also supported the policy.
He said: “Sometimes, we may have a life-threatening pregnancy. Based on this understanding, it is a welcome development especially to save the lives of pregnant women.”
However, Adeyemi said “…as a pastor, there is no way we can be talking about killing lives… You cannot just be terminating pregnancies.”
Why the policy is necessary – Ogun NMA chair
The State Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association, Kunle Ashimi, also justified the necessity of the policy.
Speaking with Daily Trust, Ashimi said the document gives guidelines on those who merit abortion based on social and clinical conditions.
He said “Some people have misinterpreted that document to mean that government has legalised abortion. The government has not legalised abortion. I was part of those who adopted the documents. So, I can tell you that government did not legalise abortion.
“What the document is about is that there are certain conditions under which a doctor can perform abortion and so the document gives doctors guidelines on how to go about it in terms of the safest ways for those who merit abortion.”
Citing examples of the applicable conditions, the medical expert said, “Imagine a teenage girl who has been impregnated by her father. What do you think?
“There are also factors with clinical conditions. For example, a woman is pregnant and she has been diagnosed with cancer of the cervix, for example.
“So, there are so many clinical conditions under which a woman may not be able to carry a pregnancy to term, as such, we say her life will be under threat for carrying that pregnancy.
“It is those kinds of people that the guideline is meant for on how to go about it.”
“For those people, if the doctors consider that their life would be at risk if they carry the pregnancy, it can be terminated. So, it’s not for everybody because they didn’t legalise abortion for everybody.
He called on government to improvement on the enlightenment for the documents.
Unsafe abortions on the increase
Unsafe abortions have been identified as one of the leading causes of maternal deaths in Nigeria, accounting for about 10 to 40 per cent.
In Ogun State, there is an increase in the number of unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions among the youths and teenagers. A survey conducted by the Adolescents 360 (A360), a project within the purview of the Society for Family Health (SFH), revealed that Ogun State recorded 92,400 teenage pregnancies between 2016 and 2020.
Findings by our correspondent also revealed that ‘unsafe and criminal’ abortions are still rampant in the state. The practice is aided by health practitioners. This is even though abortion is punishable under the Criminal Code law of the state.
A matron at a private clinic in the state told Daily Trust that: “Criminal abortion is still rampant in Ogun State not only among young girls but also women of child-bearing age.”
“Many of them still walk into the hospital and procure abortion,” she told our correspondent, pleading anonymity.
When asked why the illicit act still persists despite the prohibiting laws, the matron responded “Are you the one who will go and report to the police?
“It’s very hard for a doctor to get caught in the act conducting an illegal abortion except if the patient dies (God forbid) in the process and someone later reports the case to the police.
“And take for instance, if someone willingly walks into a hospital and procures abortion, will she be the one that will go and report to the police?”
On the stand of NMA on abortion, Ashimi said “Well, we can’t do anything other than what the law says. We are lawful people. The law says abortion in Nigeria is illegal, so it’s illegal.”
“There are laws; not that there have never been laws. There are laws that guide those things… and those laws are clearly stated. There’s a Criminal Code Law of Ogun State that says something about that. If I recall well, there are sections of the Law, Criminal Code Law of Ogun State, sections 228, 229 and 230. And also, section 297.
“In fact, it prescribes punishment for the person that committed the abortion, the person that helped to do the abortion and the person that supplied what they used to do the abortion. All of them are liable.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know that there are laws guiding against abortion. In fact, the person that carried out the abortion is liable to 14 years jail in section 228, in section 229, the person that procured the abortion is liable to seven years imprison and the person that supplied the materials used knowing that those materials are going to be used for abortion, that one is liable to two years.
“I think section 297 talks about the fact that if the abortion is carried out legally, that’s under those conditions that I have said, then nobody is liable.”