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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Coalition Urges Governor Sanwo-Olu to Lift Suspended Guideline

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Women groups and representatives of civil society organisations led by the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) have appealed to the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to reinstate the suspended guidelines on safe termination of pregnancy.

The groups in a webinar on Monday said the guidelines are important to make provision for termination of pregnancy in cases of incest, rape, and sexual and gender-based violence.

They highlighted that there has been a rise in the number of rape and incest cases, leading to pregnancy and that by law, these victims, including children, are unable to access safe abortion services.

Following public criticism, the Lagos State Government suspended the guideline exactly one week after its launch on 29 June 2022.

The 40-page policy document was titled “Lagos State Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications.”

The guideline, according to WARDC aligns with existing laws and “domesticates the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, Section 38, supporting victims of rape and sexual violence.”

According to data cited by WARDC, unsafe abortion in Nigeria constitutes 10 per cent of the global maternal death rate and stands as the second leading cause of maternal mortality in the country.

Protecting women

In her remarks, the Founding Director of WARDC, Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, emphasises the need for the government to prioritise women’s health, rights, and lives despite the “sentiments” that may surround the matter.

Mrs Akiyode-Afolabi said the guidelines were developed to save women from preventable deaths, noting that the suspension undermines the crucial objective.

“We understand that certain religious, cultural, and philosophical convictions oppose the document developed over four years,” she said.

She added that the denial of safe abortion care to survivors of rape not only violates the right to health and privacy but also may infringe upon the prohibition of ill-treatment, and Nigeria as “a nation bound by the provisions of the Maputo Protocol must take all appropriate measures to protect reproductive rights, authorising medical abortion in specific cases.”

Petition launched

Mrs Akiyode-Afolabi also launched an online petition to the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, titled “Save Women from Dying in Nigeria”, which has now garnered about 300 signatures.

Also, in her presentation on the status of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) in Nigeria, Ngozi Nwosu-Juba, cited cases of how lack of access to safe abortion endangers the lives of rape and incest victims.

In 2017 alone, according to WARDC, 212,000 women out of an estimated 2 million annually who had abortions sought treatment for complications, while 285,000 did not receive the necessary care for the severe health consequences they faced.

Importance of guidelines for safe abortions

Speaking on the importance of the guideline, the General Secretary and Project Coordinator for the Society Of Gynaecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria (SOGON), Kehinde Okunade, said it is high time the government woke up to prevent “our women from dying from preventable causes of unsafe abortions.”

Mr Okunade noted that SOGON in collaboration with some organisations, is working to ensure the guideline is reinstated and applicable within the Lagos state context.

“Beyond the guideline being reinstated, there is a need to look at some social constructs or barriers that will prevent the uptake of the guidelines, and we need to educate people including healthcare workers so they can offer services in line with the guidelines without any hindrance,” he said.

READ ALSO: Alleged Mass Abortion: Probe panel has heard 50 witnesses – Official

“We want a situation where women have full rights to their sexual health and access to medical services without hindrances.”

The guidelines were developed by the Lagos State Ministry of Health alongside SOGON, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), and CSOs, to guide health workers on processes of offering safe abortion within the ambit of the law.

In collaboration with over 150 NGOs, WARDC organised a press conference in August 2022 demanding the immediate lift of the suspension, alleging that the state government is being blackmailed by religious sentiments, and by persons with certain philosophical convictions to suspend the guideline.

WARDC project

The WARDC Programme Officer on the project titled: “Enhancing Women’s Voices to Demand Accountability on Maternal Health in Nigeria,” Peace Etugbo, highlighted the consequences of unsafe abortions.

Ms Etugbo said the project aims to enhance the voices of women in Lagos State and to demand accountability for safe abortion and preventable maternal death.

“The objective is to strengthen evidence-based policy, expand access to safe abortion and prevent maternal deaths. To coordinate the activities of CSOs and engage health practitioners on best practices,” she explained.

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