Curbing maternal death with enhanced laws on women’s rights

Participants at a three-day talk shop organized by IPAS-Nigeria in Ibadan, Oyo State capital reviewed the Global Gag Rule (GGR) policy of the United States (U.S.) which prevented non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from providing abortion services and concluded that there was the need for a review of restrictive laws on abortion to safe women from untimely death. FOLUSO OGUNMODEDE was there


Participants, lawyers, medical doctors and journalists were unanimous at the end of a three-day workshop entitled “Rights of women to reproductive health and Global Gag Rule (GGR) organized by IPAS-Nigeria in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital that there was the need to review laws impeding women’s rights to reproductive health in view of the United States’ GGR’s policy.


The participants led by a lawyer, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, having reviewed and cotextualised the GGR, concluded that the need to review obsolete laws gagging women from accessing reproductive health and rid them of maternal death arising from unsafe abortion must be reviewed if burdens of maternal death must end in the country.


For instance, Afolabi-Akiyode, who in a GGR’s overview and the implications for women’s health rights painted a graphic picture on how every Nigerian woman and about 109 of them died daily from preventable causes-related to pregnancy and childbirth, insisted that it was time the federal government domesticated international and regional legal frameworks that would promote Women’s Sexual Reproductive Health And Rights (WSRH&R).


She specifically raised concern that if laws gagging women’s right to reproductive health were not reviewed and amended, death  arising from causes-related to pregnancy and childbirth would soar especially when GGR had limited women from legally accessing abortion in critical cases outside the purview of exemptions already provided by GGR.


This, Afolabi-Akiyode concluded had led to “denial of lawful abortion and reproductive health autonomy. She said: “GGR has limited women from legally accessing abortion in situations outside the exemptions provided in the rule and this has led to denial of lawful abortion and reproductive health autonomy.”


Afolabi-Akiyode was echoed by IPAS’ Country Director, Mr. Lucky Palmer, who said a review of restrictive laws on abortion was a panacea for enhanced women’s reproductive rights to quality health.


Palmer said only an amendment of restrictive abortion laws was needed due to the human rights implications of unsafe abortions. He said although Nigerian had ratified the Convention on Elimination of all Form of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), it had not incorporated it into its laws.


Besides, he said its provisions were, therefore, not accessible to victims of violations even as the complicit silence of the laws where they were expected to expressly intervene to secure the rights of the vulnerable were unavailable


Palmer said: “There is the need for political will on the part of the government to domesticate international and regional treaties that promote women’s reproductive health and rights such as African Union Protocol on the Rights of women in Africa. “Access to abortion services is particularly important for women and girls who are victims of sexual violence, rape and incest.” IPAS, which began its work in 1973, had provided life-saving reproductive health technologies for health system in several countries. With offices on four continents, IPAS had worked to meet the reproductive health needs of women and girls, improving health services and access for them and expanding their sexual and reproductive rights. However, in a communiqué, participants were unanimous on the followings among others that:


• The government should domesticate international and regional legal frameworks that would promote Women’s Sexual Reproductive Health And Rights (WSRH&R).


• The 1861 Abortion Law be reviewed to take into consideration the plights of women and girls who are victims of unwanted pregnancies as a result of sexual violence in line with the Maputo Protocol.


• Governments at all levels should take the health of women as priority and increase funding for WSRH&R.


• Nigerians including the media should join the global campaign against GGR and rigorous awareness should be created on the exceptions to the GGR, to enable CSOs provide services to victims of unwanted pregnancies as a result of rape and incest among other exceptions.


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