December 9, 2015 By Jariatu S. Bangura
Members of Parliament yesterday passed into law the controversial Safe Abortion Act, 2015 despite concerns raised by religious leaders, opinion leaders and some lawmakers.
The preamble of the Act reads that it will prevent maternal death and injury, safeguard reproductive rights, and determine the circumstance and conditions under which pregnancies may be terminated.
It could be recalled that last Thursday the bill was due to be passed but a last minute walkout by some lawmakers prevented the historic moment as the speaker was forced to adjourn for fifteen minutes, hoping that MPs would form a quorum to continue the debate. The speaker had to adjourn until yesterday after it became apparent that there was not enough members to pass the bill.
The Act was passed though yesterday after it was again tabled by ruling party lawmaker Hon. Isatu Kabia. She told the House that each year approximately 210 million women become pregnant, with over 135million delivering live born infants, while 75million pregnancies end in stillbirth, spontaneous or induced abortion.
She said death due to unsafe abortion remain close to 13% of all maternal deaths, unsafe abortion related deaths have however reduced to 47,000 in 2008 from 56,000 in 2003 and 69,000 in 1990, adding that there is a correspondingly decline in the overall number of maternal death to 358,000 in 2008 from 546,00 in 1990.
Hon. Kabia explained that studies carried out in the country on the causes and determinant of unsafe abortions show the prevalence of early sexual activity, as 55% of teenagers aged 15-19 are sexually active, with premature maternity among 19 year olds of which 50% of pregnancies occurred before the age of 19 years. She said report indicates that the use of contraceptives is not common, with a very high percentage of unmet family planning needs, noting that 28% of married women in the country have an unmet need for family planning with a higher proportion with an unmet need for spacing births than with an unmet need for limiting births.
She noted that the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW] committee in its review of Sierra Leone early this year, noted with concern the very high maternal mortality ratio in the country and that the previous law [Offences against the Persons Act, 1861] had criminalised the procedure without providing an exception, adding that the high incidence of sexual violence and unwanted pregnancies resulting in unsafe abortion accounted for 13% of maternal mortality.
The bill failed to pass last week when some lawmakers stormed out of the Well after it was tabled, citing moral reasons. But the dramatic U-turn came as a surprise to many who had doubt whether parliament can decriminalize safe abortion in the country.
Some of the women who were bused from the provinces to support the passage of the bill told our reporter they were brought to witness the debate without having the knowledge of what the bill contains. “We were not informed about what we’re coming for or either what is in the bill that we are coming to support the ratification process and we are not treated fairly, if we would have known we will not come for such process,” one of them said.
With the passage of the bill into an Act of Parliament, it is expected that the rate of illegal and unsafe abortion will drop significantly, thus saving the lives of women, especially teenage girls.
Non-governmental group, Ipas spearheaded the campaign to decriminalise ‘safe abortion’ in the country, building a coalition of civil society groups, lawmakers and the media to lobby for a new abortion law in the country, to replace the more than 150 years old abortion law.