By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
Strongly condemning Sierra Leone’s 1861 Abortion law, IPAS Country Director and Senior Policy Adviser, Valerie Tucker, said women should be free to express their reproductive health choices.
“No woman should die by expressing her reproductive health choices, such as aborting an unwanted pregnancy,” said Valerie adding that no matter what, women will try to exercise their reproductive rights.
She described the 1861 law, which criminalizes abortion, as a legacy of our colonial masters, and ‘yet we call ourselves an independent state’.
“Our colonial masters (England) who left us this law have changed their laws four times now and yet we are still buried in these laws of 1861,” fumed Valerie.
Speaking at one day symposium supported by IPAS and organized by WIMSAL in commemoration of International Women’s Day on the theme: ‘Make it happen: enforce Sexual Offences Act, review 1861 Abortion Law, stop early marriage and rape’ on Thursday 12th March 2015 at SLAJ headquarters, Freetown, Valerie vowed that as long as women continue to die of unsafe abortion her organization would not stop talking about it.
In 2011, a study by IPAS in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation found out that hundreds of thousands of dollars were being spent to treat cases of unsafe abortion. The study also revealed that 1 in 3 women would have done one or two abortions by the time she is 40 years of age.
Valerie said the decision to have an abortion is not often one that is taken lightly.
“A woman would have gone over the decision in her head over and over again before she finally agrees. And when she does, no law should stop her from exercising that right,” said Valerie.
She added; “And no woman should be stigmatized for exercising that right. It’s her right. She must have had her situation or particular circumstance that led her to that decision. In the first place she made the moral decision to sleep with her boyfriend or husband,” explained Valerie.
Furthermore, Valerie said women should have access to modern contraceptives.
“There’s no need keeping these drugs on the shelves when women need them to prevent unwanted pregnancies,” queried Valerie, adding that IPAS is against unwanted pregnancies happening.
Valerie described teenage pregnancy as a careless way of pro-creation.
“As women we want to procreate in a careful way. We don’t pro-create and leave the children to the wear and tear of the streets,” she said.
Valerie said society needs to be talking about such issues frankly and openly, adding that women especially don’t often have the space to discuss their reproductive health matters.
“We understand the moral and cultural perspectives of this discussion, but a lot of women still die from unsafe abortion,” reasoned Valerie. “Do our churches and mosques have a role to play talking to their congregations about sex education? Have we asked the Ministry of Education to include this sensitive subject in the curricula of schools? What about our community leaders? I think we need to be open about this.”
The termination of pregnancy bill currently being reviewed is asking for four indicators where a woman can access safe abortion.
One is when a woman gets pregnant from rape. In this situation the law proposes that the victim can access safe abortion up to 24 weeks.
The second is pregnancy derived from incest. Here the victim has a right to choose safe abortion facilities.
The third is based on a woman’s health condition. If the continued pregnancy is deemed to injure the woman (in cases of epilepsy and high blood pressure, for example) she has the right to choose for safe abortion.
And fourthly, if the feutus shows any signs of disability the woman has the right to make a choice of not having that baby.
“It’s a start,” said Valerie compromisingly. “But we will continue to push for more freedom.”