ABORTION AND ITS MANY CONTROVERSIES
By Femi Olugbile
It is hard to be cynical about the youth and their possibilities, and there is an abiding necessity to keep the hope alive that there would be a better future, despite the present self-inflicted travails and apparent hopelessness of Nigeria.
When a group of youths from the Church came up with an invitation to address a seminar on the rather odd topic of ‘Abortion’, which they were hosting as part of a Youth Harvest, it was hard to resist the invitation. It was a subject germane to their lives.
The subject of Abortion is enjoying much attention in different parts of the world currently, though it is not always for the best of reasons. The Legislature in the State of Texas, USA, has just passed a law which makes it an offence for anyone to get rid of a pregnancy after six weeks, except where the mother’s life is in danger. Anyone – from neighbour to taxi driver, who aids a woman in the process of seeking an abortion is automatically liable to be sued by a fellow citizen for an offence that could attract several years of imprisonment.
One immediate point of curiosity about the Texas law is the stipulation of six weeks. Do Texans truly believe that life begins in the womb only when the foetus is six weeks old?
It is not an idle question. In the bric-a-brac of the Abortion controversy over the years, a lot of opinions – medical, philosophical, spiritual have been offered about when the foetus changes from being an ‘it’ to a ‘he’ or ‘she’. Strongly expressed convictions hold that the baby is a person from the moment of fertilization of the egg by the sperm. Others equally strongly advocate that the baby ‘becomes’ a ‘person’ from the moment of ‘quickening’ – when it begins to move in the mother’s womb.
The significance of the distinction is that to get rid of an ‘it’ may be merely a technical inconvenience. To kill a ‘he’ or ‘she’ is murder. Around the same time as the Texan law was enacted, laws were passed in the opposite direction in Northern Ireland, and in Mexico, giving more freedom to women to decide if they want an abortion, and making it easier to follow through on such a decision.
‘Abortion’ is the loss of a pregnancy spontaneously, when it may be called a ‘miscarriage’, or through deliberate intervention such as taking some pills or having a surgical procedure to remove the foetus before the age when the baby is able to survive in the outside world. About one third of all pregnancies world-wide end in abortion. Some of them are spontaneous. Most are ‘induced’, usually based on a decision taken by the female carrying the pregnancy.
It is that ‘right’ to take a decision to end a life that continues to excite passionate controversy around the world. For the most part it is not a ‘medical’ controversy at all. Rather the Abortion debate, like the one about sexuality and gender identity, goes to the core values of human society, and many people’s views on what was ordained by God.
The argument concerning abortion distils into two extreme camps – the Pro-Life, who believe any abortion is murder, and the Pro-Choice, who believe a woman’s right to decide what happens in her body is sacrosanct. Between the ranks of the supporters of the two viewpoints, there have been demonstrations, counterdemonstrations, fistfights, even shooting wars.
In the nations of the Western world, the abortion debate divides citizens along political and religious lines. There seems to be an assumption that the rest of the world should simply fall in line behind one or other of the contending camps – a kind of cultural imperialism without any consideration to their own cultural antecedents and belief systems.
The Roman Catholic Church traditionally frowns at abortion and at most forms of birth control. On the other hand, many of those who consider themselves ‘liberal’, feminist or socially ‘progressive’ identify with the ‘prochoice’ banner and are ready to battle to the death to defend it.
In Nigeria, the law states that Abortion is forbidden, except in situations where there is danger to the mother’s life. Nobody obeys the law, of course. Abortions are very common in all population centres. Because of the law, and for reasons of stigma and subterfuge, a lot of the abortions are carried out ‘illegally’ by poorly trained persons, and in unsuitable, poorly equipped facilities. A significant percentage, especially of young girls, who go through this route end up suffering long term health consequences. Many die, constituting a major fraction of the Maternal Mortality statistic for the country, which is estimated at 555 for every hundred thousand births in Lagos, and much worse for the rest of the country.
What sense is to be made of the abortion brouhaha that is suddenly taking up so much oxygen?
Humanity, it would seem, is trying to feel its way towards common values and how best to live in society. That consensus may never come. It is difficult to see a time when everybody everywhere will agree on a common stand on Abortion.
In the Netherlands, abortion is free on demand, up till twenty-first week. Many people would see the Dutch route as freedom carried to excess.
Widespread education and availability of appropriate birth control methods could make pregnancy a position arrived at deliberately and responsibly in Nigeria, and elsewhere. This could be combined with agreement on an evidence-based list of physical and emotional risks that may entitle a mother to early, safe and legal termination of an unwanted or injurious a pregnancy.
To watch Pro-Life right wingers in Texas USA threatening with guns and throwing the name of God at ’Woke’ Pro-Choice denizens, many of them young people, is to realise that, in some eyes, the Abortion debate is a battle between the forces of Good, and the forces of Evil. For these warriors, there is no middle ground.