World, Africa

New abortion law divides Benin

Health officials says move aims to save lives but Episcopal Conference says will destroy mothers, unborn babies

Aurore Bonny   | 21.10.2021
New abortion law divides Benin FILE PHOTO

DOUALA, Cameroon

Benin's lawmakers passed a law legalizing abortion that officials say is aimed at saving lives but others contend it ruins.

The law on sexual and reproductive health that passed late Wednesday said women will be able to terminate pregnancies up to 12 weeks.

This is "when the pregnancy is likely to aggravate or cause a situation of material, educational, professional or moral distress incompatible with the interests of the woman and/or the unborn child,” according to the text of the law.

The Health Ministry reported that nearly 200 women die annually from abortions and 20% from unsafe abortions in the West African country of more than 12 million people.

Health Minister Benjamin Hounkpatin said at a press conference Thursday that the new legislation "must be seen as a public health measure whose sole objective is to save human lives.”

He said he was convinced that medical staff who are confronted with the daily management of complications following clandestine abortions will welcome the decision by lawmakers.

It will ease the pain of women with unwanted pregnancies who resort to abortions in unsafe conditions, he said.

Abortions, that were previously forbidden except in cases of rape, risk to the life of the pregnant woman or incestuous relationships, was welcomed by women's rights defenders.

"This is a courageous decision that is to be welcomed, especially in a society that is quick to deny women the right to control their bodies," Mylene Flicka, a popular Beninese feminist wrote on Twitter.

But that view is not unanimous.

Days earlier, the Benin Episcopal Conference (CEB) said “no” to what it called a "serious decision."

The clergy demanded "unconditional respect for the sacred and inviolable character of life, especially that of the innocent."

"Abortion is an inhumane act that destroys the life of the fetus but also that of the mother in many ways," it said, adding that there are "safe and reliable alternatives to remedy the ills that are intended to be solved by the legalization of abortion."

MP Ake Natonde warned of the "sterility or even death" that an abortion can cause and the liberalization of the sale of over-the-counter drugs for the operation.

This will be "a public health problem that is likely to be more deadly than Covid-19," he said.

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