In any part of the world, abortion is one SRHR topic that remains a controversial one for reasons ranging from religious to moral or even political beliefs. This is not any different in Nigeria; if anything, the topic receives way more opposition than any other one I have ever had the opportunity to discuss with people about. The very mention of the word is enough for eyebrows to be raised and walls of defense made from bricks of some of the reasons already listed above as many are unyielding and unwilling to have a change of mindset.

In the discourse of abortion, history has separated people into two categories; the Pro life and the Pro-choice. Simply put, they are defined as opposed to abortion and favoring the legalization of abortion respectively. Come with me as I give a broader perspective of both sides of the coin; what they believe in and how they arrived at it

PRO-LIFE: Viewing from the perspective of human rights, people who are pro-life belief that the fetus has just as much legal rights as the mother. This stems from the belief that the fetus is a human being (because they believe that human life begins at conception i.e fertilization of the ovum or egg); this is a bit of a grey area as some other schools of thought believe that pregnancy does not begin until after implantation. Pro-lifers believe that abortion is the taking of human life while not giving any allowance for whatever circumstances that might surround the initiation of the pregnancy (e.g. rape), physical and mental health of the woman, fetal impairments. They also fail to put into consideration other factors such as the readiness of the woman in question to carry a child, economic conditions that potentially makes the mother incapable of catering for the welfare of the child after it is born, career goals of a woman and how an unplanned pregnancy could get in the way and so on. Some of them even see pregnancy as “a grand punishment for having sex” and so insist that every woman who gets pregnant must have the baby whether or not she wants to

PRO-CHOICE: In terms of sexual health, pro-choice is defined by giving individuals the opportunity to make their own choices about sexuality, relationships, contraceptive use and reproduction including abortion. It means that they respect the right of an individual woman to make an informed choice, if faced with an unplanned pregnancy with options of choosing to continue with the pregnancy and either keeping the child or putting it up for adoption as well the choice to access free, legal, confidential and safe abortion.

Viewing from the perspective of human rights, people who are pro-choice believe that the fetus is only a potential human being and that whether or not it becomes one is heavily dependent on the woman carrying it therefore its basic rights belongs to her. They believe that everyone has the basic human right to decide whether they want to have children and when they want to have it. Contrary to general believe, being pro-choice allows that someone can be personally opposed to abortion or feel uncomfortable having one herself but would only not impose his or her moral, personal or religious views unto other women; e.g. seeking laws that reduce or restrict women’s access to abortions or judging women for their decisions.

In this article, I aim to convince you to become pro-choice if you aren’t one already -

  1. It would help to reduce maternal mortality rate: Irrespective of how restrictive abortions laws are in some countries, women still have abortions-only that they get it via illegal and therefore unsafe methods. Nigeria is ranked the country with the 4th highest maternal mortality rate worldwide with complications from unsafe abortion being one of the commonest causes of these deaths.
    Studies have shown that access to elective abortions significantly reduces maternal mortality by 11.1-20% as well as significant declines experienced in the rate of abortion related morbidities in countries that experienced abortion reforms as the flexibility of abortion laws leads to an improvement in the quality of abortion services thus reducing the incidence of unsafe abortion. We can infer from the above that relaxing the restrictions placed on access to safe abortion would help us save lives that would have otherwise been wasted.
  2. It plays a role in population control: Studies based on the experience of 116 of the world’s largest countries have shown that abortion is essential to any national population growth effect. Like most developing countries, Nigeria has the highest percentage of its population being young people; the implication of this is that the largest percentage of its citizens are still within the reproductive age bracket (about 53% are between 15-64yrs). This on my opinion should make us even more reliant on family planning and safe abortion if we must control the exponential growth alongside economic decline we are currently experiencing.
  3. It is linked to postpartum depression:Some of the causes of postpartum depression that have been documented includes having a baby with special needs, having an unwanted pregnancy, being younger than 20yrs and lack of support from family and friends; all of which could have been easily controlled if a woman is allowed to choose whether or not she wants to have the child given the circumstances staring her in the face.
  4. Right to bodily autonomy is a human right: Sexual rights are human rights and must uphold and respect our fundamental human rights as Nigerians, it must include awe high sense of regard for the fact that a woman has a right to bodily autonomy/integrity which means the right to make informed choices and decisions over one’s body, life and future. This includes and should not be limited to the right to adopt a method of contraception and to end an unplanned pregnancy if it occurs.
  5. Motherhood should be a choice: You would agree with me that being a parent is too big of a deal to be allowed to happen by accident or because the law leaves one with no other choice. The emotional, physical, financial responsibility placed on an individual as a result of parenthood, the availability and maturity required; all these are too enormous to be left to chance or allowed to be preceded by an unplanned pregnancy; child bearing should be a decision made from a place or readiness and understanding of what is required of you. This is not the case for people who became pregnant unintentionally and I strongly believe that it is an unfair position to put anyone.
  6. Has nothing to do with abstinence: Can you believe that the actual fear of many pro-life advocates is that they think people would stop abstaining from sex because they can now have an abortion if they get pregnant? That, however, is completely untrue.
  7. Legalizing abortion does not change the cost and effect of the procedure: Just take a few seconds to imagine yourself in the shoes of a woman who discovered she is carrying an unplanned pregnancy. For most of these women, they consider and eventually opt for an abortion as the last resort because whether or not we want to believe it, abortion is not a joke! The cramps, the bleeding, the possibility of an incomplete expulsion or other complications, the emotions involved; all these issues remain the same irrespective of the legality of the procedure.

Nigeria is a secular state (at least in theory) which means that the country is supposed to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion however, we find a lot of our laws including abortion laws still being influenced by religious and personal believes. If we must move forward from here, we need to be able to set aside our personal boundaries in order to make laws that logically benefits the individuals directly involved, and is of tremendous benefit to the country at large.

Bio - Ashade Itunu is doctor-in-training in Nigeria who is deeply passionate about sexual and reproductive health rights and advocacy as a vital component in achieving holistic health.