Liberia: Should Liberia Legalize Abortion?

…. Two health experts, one of whom is  Tolbert Nyenswah, the first Director General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, think so

Two prominent health experts have called upon the Senate to align with the House in legalizing abortion, but it should do so within the first trimester of pregnancy, setting the cut-off point at 12 weeks gestation. 

The experts --- Tolbert Nyenswah and Mardia Stone -- argued that the legal change would reduce the chances of complications that might arise from unsafe, backdoor procedures. They, however, noted the changes should be at 12 weeks and not the 18 weeks proposed by the House --- as the former significantly reduces the risks associated with abortion compared to the former.

"Any abortion laws in Liberia should consider 12 weeks of gestation, the first trimester of pregnancy,  as the cutoff point for elective abortions," Nyenswah and  Stone said in a statement.  "Any abortion beyond that  period, would be a criminal offense."

"[12 weeks] gives a woman sufficient time to confirm that she  is indeed pregnant and legally support her desire to safely obtain  an abortion," they added.

Nyenswah and  Stone noted that the health risk of an abortion is directly related to how, when, where, and by whom the procedure is performed. They noted that while the move by the House is somewhat welcoming -- they are in total disagreement with legislating abortion at 18 weeks,  which is risky. 

Nyenswah and  Stone vehemently argued that a woman doing abortion at  12 weeks stands a great chance to avert the possible risks, "even death, of an elective abortion at 18 to 24  weeks gestation. "

The call by the two experts comes after the Liberian House passed a bill to allow abortion within the first 18 weeks of pregnancy. The proposal has ignited a nationwide debate about women's reproductive rights, personal autonomy, and the role of the government in such matters.

Supporters of the bill argue that legalizing abortion at 18 weeks is a pivotal step toward acknowledging women's agency over their own bodies. They contend that restrictive abortion laws disproportionately affect marginalized communities and pose serious health risks to women who resort to unsafe methods to terminate pregnancies.

However, opponents of the bill, including religious groups and conservative lawmakers, maintain that life begins at conception and that abortion is morally unacceptable. They are pushing for the maintenance of the country's restrictive abortion law, which only permits the procedure in extreme cases with the approval of a medical professional.   

As the debate gains momentum, the spotlight is now on the Senate, which holds the power to either uphold the current restrictive laws or pave the way for a progressive reform that respects women's reproductive rights. 

Observers note that whatever decision the Senate makes will significantly shape Liberia's stance on women's health issues and influence the overall well-being of the nation's women.

But while abortion remains illegal, a recent report by a pro-abortion group, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, and its partner noted that Liberia recorded more than 38,000 illegal abortions in 2021. The figure shows an induced abortion rate of 30.7 per 1,000 women and a ratio of 229 abortions per 1,000 live births

According to Nyenswah and Stone, intrusive legal restrictions and  stigma has led many "young teenage girls and women seeking abortions" in Liberia to often resort to  clandestine procedures, "where safety cannot be assured."

They argued that there is a strong correlation between low education among young women, poverty, unintended  pregnancies, unsafe abortion, and maternal deaths. 

In Liberia, Nyenswah and Stone citing a  2019/2020  report on Liberia noted that 33% of the pregnancy in the country was  mistimed, which means manynwomen wanted to have children later, and while 8% of the children were not wanted at all. 

"When you combine women who want to get pregnant later, and women who do not want to get pregnant at all, it constitutes a gigantic forty percent.

"Therefore, health authorities should set up safe abortion clinics with  trained providers, equipment, logistics and supplie," the expert noted. "Even in the case of a justified abortion,  providers should be reminded that continuing an unwanted pregnancy could induce considerable  mental anguish for the mother, if the pregnancy resulted from rape, incest, or other felonious  intercourse, or the fetus was found to have a genetic defect that could result in a child, born with grave physical or mental defects. "Editor's note:  To read the full position of Tolbert Nyenswah, and Mardia Stone,  please visit the Daily Observer website.