Legal and policy framework to make abortion safe
Accra, July 15, GNA - Nana Oye Lithur, Coordinator, Africa Office of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, on Thursday called for a comprehensive legal and policy framework for the implementation of a law to make abortion safe for Ghanaian women.
She said abortion was a controversial issue, which touched on religious, cultural, moral and traditional values, and, therefore, there was the need to adopt a liberal interpretation of the law, improve access to legal abortion services and expand community awareness. Nana Lithur made the call at a three-day seminar on: "Saving Women's Lives: Expanding Media Capacity to Fight Unsafe Abortion" in Accra.
The seminar, organized by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), a Washington-based non-governmental organization, is aimed at providing Journalists with information about how safe and unsafe abortion affect public health.
It is also to enable Journalists to come out with accurate, balanced and informative stories on the issue. Speaking on: "Ghana's Abortion Laws", Nana Lithur said though the law, Criminal Code of 1960 (Act 29) Section 58, criminalizes activities of abortion, services for exceptions as prescribed by law were not readily available.
"Even where they are available, there is ignorance about the law and the exceptions. Some health personnel are not aware that abortion is legal in certain circumstances and there is false perception that all abortions are criminal."
She listed the exceptions as rape, defilement of female idiot, incest, risk to life, injury to physical or mental health and substantial risk, serious abnormality or disease. Unsafe abortion has been identified as the second leading cause of maternal mortality and one out of every three women, who died of maternal death, had unsafe abortion. "Unsafe abortion is silently being performed underground within communities in Ghana and outside formal health services structures," she noted.
"This is as a result of stigmatisation coupled with lack of health services for abortion and it being perceived as those who perform abortions are criminals breaking the law".
Nana Lithur called for the identification of stakeholders and the development of an advocacy plan to improve access to safe abortion services.
She said traditional leaders should also be provided with the information on the implications of unsafe abortion, encouraging political leaders to make safe abortion less controversial. Religious leaders should also be made to understand that providing sexual education on abortion would not promote promiscuity. Dr Afua Hesse of Department of Surgery of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, giving an overview of the problem in Ghana, said one woman dies each minute due to causes related to pregnancy and there was the urgent need to address the issue of unsafe abortion which had been identified as a leading cause of maternal mortality. She said Ghana had a poor data on unsafe abortion therefore not portraying the magnitude of the problem.
Dr Hesse attributed this to the fact that some health personnel were unwilling to classify the type of abortion, lack of hospital policy about classification of abortion and women not accessing hospital facilities but rather traditional practitioners.
She said there were some hospitals that had the facilities to offer safe abortion services and yet women still died. "These women are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving."
Dr Ali Samba of the Obstetric and Gynaecology Department of Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, speaking on "Abortion Procedures and Methods; Orthodox and Unorthodox", said the methods used to terminate a pregnancy by and large determined the outcome. He said deaths and complications from unsafe abortions were preventable and the likelihood of dying as a result of abortion performed with modern methods was minimal.
He called on all stakeholders to join in the crusade to make abortion safe to save the lives of women.