After lengthy debate, Benin’s parliament voted Oct. 20 to decriminalize abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. If ratified by the constitutional court, Benin will become the first country in West Africa to legalize a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
Women’s rights organizations have led a long fight to gain this victory. “I am very, very happy that from now on, we can give this right back to the woman, to decide for herself,” Angela Kpeidja, president of women’s rights group Do Not Be Afraid, told Africanews.
“We have to let women choose,” said pro-choice activist Faustine Adjagba. “And we have to protect women from all these charlatans and fake abortion providers that flourish in our towns.”
Benin Health Minister Benjamin Hounkpatin estimated that unsafe abortions have been responsible for 20% of maternal deaths in the country.
The World Health Organization estimates that only about 12% of people in Benin have access to, or use, modern contraception methods.
Until now abortion in Benin was permitted only if the pregnancy endangered the life of the woman, was a result of rape or incest or if the fetus had a severe medical condition. Under the new law abortion is legal if the pregnancy is likely to “aggravate or cause material, educational, professional or moral distress incompatible with the woman or the unborn child’s interest.”
Tiwa Tope, a 21-year-old women’s rights activist, told Al Jazeera that now “all a woman has to do is to meet a social worker who will refer them to an authorized hospital. Or walk into a private or government-owned hospital and meet a doctor in charge.” Only four other African countries have abortion laws allowing a woman to choose to have the procedure — Cape Verde, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia.