Facing the nation’s abortion reality 

Abortion Abortion


Seventeen-year-old Naomi felt life was finally getting better. Since being diagnosed with juvenile lupus a few years ago, she and her family have struggled to cope. It had been hard to manage her condition, make sure she got the care she needed, and keep up with schoolwork. But now, her mother’s junior sister had asked her to live with her in Lagos and promised to pay her medical bills and school fees. 

Naomi was settling into life in Lagos and looking forward to the bright future ahead of her. Then, one night, her aunt’s husband came home early. He came into Naomi’s room and started to touch her. Naomi struggled against him, but he overpowered and raped her. He threatened to stop payment for her treatment if she told her aunt.

Naomi stayed quiet, but a few weeks later, her auntie noticed changes in Naomi’s body and took her to the doctor. When she found out Naomi was pregnant, she suspected her husband, got angry, and sent Naomi back home. Naomi not only lost her chance at university but returned home, pregnant and living with the psychological consequences of what had happened. Worse still, as her lupus was active, she knew her pregnancy was very risky. “This pregnancy has put my health and life at risk if I don’t terminate it,” she said.


Naomi is just one of many Nigerian girls and women who become pregnant against their will. Although an estimated 1.8 to 2.7 million abortions are carried out, mostly secretly and unsafely, every year, Nigeria has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Abortion is illegal unless done to save the life of the mother. It is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in the country, especially for women who are poor, live in rural areas, and have no education.

Naomi’s pregnancy falls within the exception to the law, so she should be able to access an abortion. Yet, not everybody agrees. The National Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications aim to ‘control the unnecessary death of women who lose their lives as a result of conditions that are aggravated by the continuation of pregnancy’ and build the capacity of medical professionals. Over five years after their publication in 2018, these guidelines are yet to be widely domesticated by states. The anti-rights movement, working with people outside the country, has constantly blocked Nigerian implementation of its laws, let alone reform to save the lives of as many as 6,000 girls and women who die every year from unsafe abortion, the majority of which are preventable.

They claim they are protecting Nigerian culture and values. Still, many ethnic groups have a history of traditional practices to control fertility and end pregnancy that their ancestors used. They are supported by organisations in Europe and the USA that provide advice, funds, and strategies. In recent years, they have disseminated disinformation, sought to influence politicians, and threatened abortion service providers. Our research shows their power became stronger during the presidency of Donald Trump. The overturning of the Roe vs Wade guarantee of the right to abortion by the US Supreme Court in 2022 emboldened them. Indeed, this ruling was used to spread myths and lies. They said abortion was not permitted in Nigeria under any circumstances, which is not true. They said that all abortion is dangerous when, in fact, abortion is a safe procedure with no lasting impacts when done properly.


This US ruling was also used to argue against the Lagos domestication of the Safe Termination of Pregnancy guidelines. As a result of their mobilisation, these guidelines were suspended nine days after their launch. People in such circumstances continue to be faced with misinformation about their rights, lack of knowledge among health workers, and fears around criminalisation.

Nigerians hold a wide variety of opinions on abortion, but we should be able to agree on two areas. We must save the lives of girls and women whose pregnancies threaten them. Regardless of their wealth, connections, or societal position, everyone should have access to quality health information and care.

For us to act on these shared values, the current situation needs to change in three major ways. Firstly, we have to provide correct information, particularly on the legality of abortion, the reduced risks linked to safe abortion, and how to access abortion to counter the disinformation that is rife. Next, we must domesticate the Safe Termination of Pregnancy guidelines and make sure they are implemented. Hence, there is better access to abortion and post-abortion care for girls and women who need it. And finally, we need to have honest conversations based on people’s realities.

Let us think and speak up about what kind of nation we want to be for our women and girls. A country where a 17-year-old girl is raped and becomes pregnant, has that pregnancy threatens not only her prospects but her very life, and is not able to terminate it (even when allowed to do so by law) should not be our Nigeria.


Nagaranja serves as a consultant at Education as a Vaccine, while Ajala is the programme officer at the same organisation.

Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.
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