During my many field visits to low-income communities to carry out abortion-related research, it wasn’t uncommon to hear young girls say
“My friend told me that if I combine this concoction of pills and household ingredients, I will be able to end my pregnancy quickly and discreetly”
It is very common to see young girls move in groups, belong to friendship cliques or have community role models, and so most of the information they get in their circle is from “inaccurate testimonials, hearsays, half-truths and myths”. Especially information surrounding abortion is a very sensitive subject. It is very unfortunate that a large number of young girls and women believe and make use of this kind of harmful unsafe abortion advice from their friends, which usually results in life-threatening complications.
“Each year 1.25 million Nigerian women have an abortion and 40% of them experience complications serious enough to require treatment” These statistics are very alarming as Nigeria is steady peaking as one of the countries with a high rate of maternal mortality; arising from unsafe abortions.
Let us dive a little into the basics of abortion, methods and complications (if any)
What is Abortion?
Abortion is the termination/miscarriage of a pregnancy, which may be spontaneous (accidental) or induced (intentional) (Alesinloye-King, 2021).
Methods of Abortion?
We have two major methods of abortion; medical abortion which involves the use of the abortion pill early in pregnancy, usually within the first 11 weeks of pregnancy. The In-clinic method is carried out in a health centre, through the use of medical instruments by a trained healthcare practitioner. These two methods are safe and effective. Any form of induced abortion that doesn’t involve the appropriate and monitored use of abortion pills (misoprostol and mifepristone) or the in-clinic method (Use of MVA or EVA) by healthcare professionals, is usually termed as unsafe. Common side effects of any method of abortion are cramps, slight fever, diarrhoea, nausea, headache, chills and slight bleeding According to Wikipedia, when an abortion is properly done, it is one of the safest procedures in medicine.
Why then do we still have many young women settling for unsafe abortions from quack providers?
The current Nigerian laws relating to abortions doesn’t make it any easier, as the restrictive and criminal nature makes it harder for young people to openly seek correct and comprehensive abortion information and services.
From the societal point of view, abortion is also tagged “immoral” and people who either talk in support of it or seek it are automatically seen as “sinners or murderers”
Effects of abortion misinformation
Unfair judgment of women who decide to have an abortion; there is a common myth that only “promiscuous” women have abortions, which is in fact false and highly judgmental. As women have abortions for various reasons e.g choice, illness, rape, incest etc.
Inability to openly seek safe abortion information: Since they can’t openly reach out to professionals for accurate information due to fear of judgement, they utilize the advice from their friends.
Increase in young girls patronizing quack providers or inducing abortions with harmful practices or household materials. Common examples are jumping from a high place, inserting iron hangers into their cervix, drinking a concoction of antibiotics, alcohol, painkillers, dye and others.
Life-threatening complications: Complications from unsafe abortion procedures such as organ damage, perforation of the reproductive organs, internal bleeding, infections, infertility or even death.
How to combat abortion misinformation among young Nigerians
Creation of localized IEC materials that properly break down abortions and provide easy-to-understand facts in local languages.
Creation of safe spaces for young women to be able to discuss these issues without fear of discrimination or judgment.
Breaking the barrier and stigma around abortions by de-criminalizing them.
Training and equipping Community role models with knowledge and skills, to provide accurate sexual and reproductive health information for young women in the community.
Resources for accurate information about abortions
Safe2choose.org: This is a social enterprise that is a part of an international movement for reproductive health and access to safe abortion.
safe2choose is an online counselling and informational platform that supports women who want an abortion with pills or surgical abortion, and when needed, refers them to trusted, trained and pro-choice healthcare providers.
Pinkshoes.org: This is an online community run by dedicated individuals who believe that all women, regardless of where they live, should have access to a safe abortion option. Pinkshoes.org works to share facts and resources about the abortion pill- what to consider beforehand, where to acquire quality abortion pills, how to use them safely, what to expect, and when to seek medical help if necessary. We’re here to equip women with the information they need to safely navigate abortion on their own terms.
Planned Parenthood: Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of people worldwide.
Bio: Oluwapelumi Alesinloye-King is currently the country consultant for Women first digital; where she works to promote access to SRH information and services in Nigeria.