By Naisola Likimani
Let’s put the facts on the table. Evidence shows that abortion has been happening for centuries, way before the pro choice movement. Wherever sex exists, there will be unplanned pregnancy, because even contraception does not work 100% of the time, there is forced/unwanted/violent sex that takes away women’s choice to get pregnant or not, etc.
Additionally in African society there is reluctance to acknowledge that sex even takes place, so we rarely provide young people and women in particular information about sexual and reproductive health, therefore they are unable to make informed choices. Then most of our women (78%) who need contraception do not have access to it, either because of poverty, because it is not provided, or they are not empowered to make that choice.
Therefore when unplanned or unwanted pregnancies happen, some will want to terminate those pregnancies. Either it will happen safely or in a kiosk somewhere with an untrained person. Our middle/upper class women can and do procure safe abortion in private clinics, for themselves and their daughters when needed. It is our poor women, our rural women, our young women who cannot afford this, and resort to very desperate measures. Women do not resort to sticking hangars in themselves or drinking bleach out of a whimsical, thoughtless decision. Let’s give them at least that respect. Research shows that all kinds of women seek abortions for all kinds of reasons, and it is incorrect to say only immoral, promiscuous women seek abortions. I can tell you many heartbreaking stories including of girls raped by fathers or other relatives who ended up with unsafe abortions, injured for life. I believe we should take our religious and moral battlefield somewhere else, not on women’s bodies. Because it is resulting in about 30,000 African women dying every year and millions of injuries from unsafe abortion, while we continue to have this debate from the safety and luxury of our homes, churches and computers.
Everyone is entitled to their belief. But no one has the right to tell someone else what to do with their own body, based on that belief. The women getting abortions in Africa are also Christians, Muslims. They are people we know and love. Let them negotiate their choices with people they trust, yes, including their god. For the rest of us, let us work to make a society where women do not have to result to desperate measures to end a pregnancy. There’s a lot we can do including preventing unplanned pregnancy. But arguing over whether abortion is morally or religiously right or wrong is the most futile of all efforts. It has never and will never stop women from seeking abortions (including churchgoing women). All it does is keep people distracted and misinformed while women continue to die in large numbers.
PS. The restrictive abortion laws we have in Africa were inherited from our colonizers. Those countries have ALL since changed their laws and now no woman dies from abortion in developed countries. Meanwhile Africa continues to have almost half of all maternal deaths from unsafe abortion in the world. As Africans we should be very concerned about the imperialist nature of some of the anti-choice campaigners from the North. They live in a society where women have choice, but is it that Africans cannot make their own choices too? Why are people so comfortable with death, poverty and poor quality of life for Africans?
Naisola Likimani is a campaigner for African women’s rights. Connect with her @NaisolaL.