It isn’t news that the average Nigerian has no idea what the Nigerian Constitution says about the most basic laws that govern our lives. If we did, we’d know that many of our laws are relics of a colonial past and haven’t been reviewed or updated in several decades.
Take for example, the curious little clauses in the wording of the criminal code on abortions in the Nigerian constitution, phrasing that suggests the problems we face are a lot larger than we realize.
“S228- Any person who, with intent to procure miscarriage of a woman whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.
S229- Any woman who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, or permits any such thing or means to be administered or used to her, is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.”
Before I rail about the injustices of punishing women for autonomy over their own bodies, let us dwell a bit on the wording of our criminal code; abortions are called ‘miscarriages’, which in fact is the formal word for a loss of pregnancy that happens without the woman’s input.
This law says that a woman who uses ‘any means or permits any thing or means’ is complicit in abortion.
A miscarriage is not an abortion. An abortion requires intent and deliberation and a decision made. Considering half of all pregnancies end up as miscarriages, and factors such as physical and mental health, age, and genetic predispositions all factor in miscarriage rates, can a prosecutor argue that a malnourished woman who loses a pregnancy used her health status as a means to end her pregnancy? Or a woman with a pre-existing condition stop her life saving medication to ensure it doesn’t affect her child, even if the pregnancy was unplanned?
Is a woman who stays with an abusive husband during a pregnancy complicit if he hits her and she then miscarries.
What does ‘any means’ mean?
Why is the law that is supposed to put women away for exercising autonomy over their bodies so vague about what actions can be considered as dangerous and what cannot?
How do we still have laws like this being enforced by educated lawyers?
Maybe this is where we need to start our fight on the eradication of abortion laws, get the law amended so we know exactly what it is, and exactly what we are fighting.
You can read the parts of the Criminal Code Act we quoted here.