Iyinoluwa Aboyeji: Much ado about abortion (YNaija Frontpage)

We in the belly of the beast 

And she thinking about abortion

– Lil Wayne (Abortion)




It is no secret that Nigeria has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Several columnists here on this forum have put forward a certain narrative as to why this is. I’d like to offer a few pertinent counterpoints particularly as it concerns the legalization of abortion.

You see, many maternal health advocates believe and preach, “unsafe abortions” to be a major cause of maternal mortality the world over. Apparently, in countries like Nigeria where abortion laws are restrictive, women are often more vulnerable to unsafe options for abortion since “safer” options are not legally available to them. The assumption seems to be that by simply legalizing abortion, you can drastically reduce a country’s maternal mortality rate as more women would be able to access “safe abortions”.

Unfortunately, the trouble with this assumption that you can make abortion “safe” by making it legal is that the data hasn’t completely borne out this hypothesis. India, for example, where abortion has been legal for almost thirty years, still has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality with one mother dying every five minutes. In Ghana, where abortion has been legal for over 50 years, abortion is said to cause thirty percent of maternal deaths. In Jamaica, where abortion has been legal since 1938 unsafe abortions are still the fifth most common contributing cause of female death. Even in America, deaths from pregnancy and childbirth have doubled in the last two decades since Roe v. Wade. So clearly, the general argument that simply by making abortion legal, you can reduce maternal mortality isn’t as clear cut as some pro-choice advocates might want us to believe.

Even the general idea that legalization or liberalization of abortion laws has any significant effect on abortion rates is very doubtful. In Ethiopia, where abortion has been legal since 2005, only an estimated 27% of all abortions were actually performed in established health facilities. On the other hand in Nigeria, where restrictions on abortion are supposedly more draconian, as far back as 1998, 40% of abortions were performed by physicians in established health facilities. That proportion is probably much higher today as Nigeria currently has one of the world’s highest abortion rates, with the number climbing to almost 6 in 10 by 2006. The state’s general unconcern with enforcing abortion laws makes Nigeria’s abortion laws nothing more than a practical joke. Yet, we still spot one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. So why do some still believe legalization of abortion is some sort of golden bullet for maternal mortality?

Also, many women’s health advocates only silently murmur the fact that haemorrhaging, and not unsafe abortion, is actually the leading cause of maternal morbidity since it is responsible for a quarter of all maternal deaths. Surprisingly enough, this problem can very simply be solved through cheaply available drugs like oxytocin which cost a fraction of dangerous abortion inducement drugs like misoprostol which the majority of the funding for reproductive health services go to.

 The trouble with this debate for the legalization of abortion in developing countries, like Nigeria, is not only that it tends to steal the shine of other less controversial solutions to the problem of maternal mortality, but that, in some cases; it actually endangers mother’s lives. More so, the arguments for the legalization of abortion in developing countries tends to ignore the fact that many of these countries actually lack the capacity and equipment to provide safe abortions to meet the increased demand that will result from liberalized abortion laws, hence endangering the lives of these women.

 At the end of the day, we need not focus on controversial and potentially dangerous measures such as the legalization of abortion to save our mothers from impending death. In fact, we owe them a duty to stick to the facts of the matter and to the simple, non-controversial measures we already know work well for reducing maternal mortality; better family planning, training birth attendants and the provision of emergency obstetrical care.


Source: Thisday April 15, 2010. G.T. Akinrogunde, “Why Abortion Law is Largely Unenforceable in Nigeria”.

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji | On Leaders and Company

Aboyeji is CEO of Bookneto, a student focused education technology company based in Canada. In 2008, he worked as an intern at the Settlement and Integration Services Organization in Hamilton and then went on to work with the World Youth Alliance at the UN Headquarters in New York as an intern. Shortly before founding Bookneto, he served as the President of one of Canada’s largest student publishing companies, Imprint Publications.

Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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Comments (7)

  1. Pingback: Photo of the Day: Abortion for students | YNaija

  2. Er, Layo I think you and Aboyeji are saying the same thing. Maybe you should read the article again. 🙂

    1. We are actually saying slightly different things…

      He says that abortions are useless even where they are legal because there is still high maternity mortality. And he is using fuzzy numbers to make his point. He is sort of right, but drawing half a picture with half the statistics is not good writing.

      I was trying to say that making it legal means that more women can seek less risky options i.e. go to proper doctors instead of quacks, nurses or pharmacists. Legalising abortions (in conjunction with other family planning "tools")in the right environment is a viable option, but prevailing healthcare system conditions might make it risky.

      Hope am making sense? 🙂

  3. Legalised abortion does not mean safe abortion; they are two separate things. As your statistics point out poor healthcare access can still lead to high maternity deaths. All those countries you mentioned where abortions are legal(Ghana, Jamaica, Ethopia), not a one has a reputation for a brilliant health services sector. They are all third-world countries.

    Just because someone goes to a clinic in Nigeria to get an abortion does not mean that they have access to the quality of healthcare that can deal with a haemorrhage. We have plenty of stats that tell us the quality of care breast cancer patients, malaria patients, paediatric patients etc receive.

    As for the US, the increase in maternal mortality affects low income and minorities in particular–those least likely to have access to quality healthcare.

    Cherry-picking information to write an article can lead to poor understanding of the facts on the part of the reader. Please don't blend facts together to create your own truth, paint the whole picture.

    Education $ emancipation of women, ready access to contraceptives are probably the best ways to go in Nigeria.

  4. While I totally agree with the above stated points, I still call for the liberalisation of our Abortion Laws. Presently, an abortion is illegal even in cases of incest and when the foetus suffers abnormalities. The current laws need to be broadened to cover these situations.

    The most important of all is the Family Planning especially contraceptive use. Recent use rates in Nigeria are still below 20%. Too poor. Male and female contraceptives need to be made as available and as cheap as possible. Our hypocrisy makes this difficult however.

  5. Good points, well researched. Great job.

    In short your last paragraph kills it. Therein lies the point.

  6. Well said. Here in lies another problem. Half the Oxytocin in the market are fake! Its a multi headed beast, this issue of maternal mortality. If only we took our MDGs as seriously as we took Fuel subsidy et al.

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