Untold Abortion Stories from Nigeria: The Legal Reality (4/4)

Criminalizing abortion is a form of discrimination against women. Abortion is still illegal In Nigeria,but it hasn't stopped thousands of women from getting it. These women endanger their lives by seeking unsafe means to terminate pregnancy. In this series of stories, Hannah, writer, journalist and story ambassador for CotW talks to women who despite the dangers have decided to get an abortion.
Nigeria, Western Africa

Story by H.T. Jagiri. Edited by Veronica Burgstaller
Published on August 20, 2022. Reading time: 4 minutes



Criminalizing abortion is a form of discrimination against women. Abortion is still illegal In Nigeria, but it hasn't stopped thousands of women from getting it. These women endanger their lives by seeking unsafe means to terminate pregnancy. As someone who is passionate about women’s rights and gender equality, I wanted to explore the impact  of the criminalization of abortion in Nigeria. So I sought out women who have risked their lives to terminate their pregnancies.  After I talked to Seyi and Amina and Dr Annie, I wanted to know more about the legal landscape of abortion here in Nigeria. So I sought out Timothy, a law student and awaiting lawyer on what he thought about the issue of abortion. 

This is his view on abortion.

“The law on abortion in Nigeria is embodied in the provision of the two principal penal statutes. These are the PENAL CODE, Section 232 and the CRIMINAL CODE, section 228. 

It Is to be noted that while the penal code explicitly states that abortion is allowed 'for the purpose of saving the life of the woman' the criminal code is silent on when abortion is lawful.  But there is a judgment of the court which points to this fact. From all that has been written, the only exception as far as Nigeria is concerned is if such an act of abortion is to save the woman's life. This is clearly stated in the penal code, but inferred from the criminal code and with the help of judicial precedents too. 

In any case, preservation of life is the only statutory justification for induced abortion under Nigerian criminal law. In other words, that's the only known exception or justification for abortion in Nigeria. 

The law has failed however to expressly include instances where a woman gets pregnant by gruesome acts such as rape. For example, the case of the Chibok girls [1]. Because apart from there being a danger to their life because they were young, their mental state as well can be affected. The law did not envisage these instances. 

Abortion is illegal but cannot be totally dealt with. This has only endangered the lives of the people more because instead of getting competent legal help, they can resort to self-help and quacks or administration of noxious substances which will in turn wreck their health. 

In 2019 the maternal deaths and morbidity ratio in Nigeria was projected to be 814 out of every 100000 births. This makes Nigeria a country with one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. Even worse, complications resulting from unsafe abortions account for approximately 40 per cent of maternal deaths in Nigeria. These figures might even be understated. 

Prohibition of abortion is doing more harm than good especially if we have to consider the economy and lifestyle in the country. People should be allowed to do with their fetuses what they want and not subject kids to a rubbish life.”

[1] a case that gained international traction, when in 2014 more than 300 girls were abducted by the Boko Haram from a secondary high school in the town of Chibok

All opinions and interpretations of the law are that of Timothy

Final note

The one thing these women have in common, is the lack of pre-abortion or post-abortion treatments. Because of the fear of ostracization and jail, most women who go for an abortion procedure settle for quacks who endanger their lives. These people almost ever face the punishments for malpractice and continue using their licenses to cause more harm to women. Unlike Seyi*, Amina* and the little girl Dr Annie* spoke about, thousands of women have lost their lives to unsafe abortion procedures. Hopefully, the government will realize that abortion is health-care and finally put a stop to its criminalization.

*Names marked with asterisks have been changed to protect the identity of those who spoke to Correspondents of the world on condition of anonymity


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H.T. Jagiri

H.T. Jagiri

Aside from being a content writer, H.T. Jagiri is a journalist and creative writer who believes every story is worth telling. Her creative works can be found in Kalahari review, Brittle paper, Olongo Africa and elsewhere. In her words, "We all have a singular purpose on earth, mine is to tell stories."

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