By Faith Nyasuguta
Benin legislators have voted to legalise abortion in the West African country, where the practise was already permitted under given conditions.
Under the fresh law passed late Wednesday, any woman can terminate a pregnancy within the first three months if it is likely to “aggravate or cause material, educational, professional or moral distress, incompatible with the woman or the unborn child’s interest.”
In previous times, abortion was allowed if pursuing the pregnancy “threatened the life of the mother”, was “the result of a rape or incest” or when “the unborn child has a particularly severe affection”.
Despite some lawmakers strongly opposing the further legalisation of abortion amid a heated debate, the amendment finally passed.
In Africa, several nations have totally banned abortion among them Congo-Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal.
“In Benin, nearly 200 women die each year as the result of abortion complications,” health minister Benjamin Hounkpatin said via a Thursday statement.
“This measure will be a relief for many women who face undesired pregnancies, and are forced to put their lives in danger with botched abortions,” he added.
According to the minister, complications from abortions have been the cause of 20 percent of maternal deaths in Benin.
“It is because of this public health threat that the government has taken its responsibilities by submitting a text that lawmakers have passed,” Hounkpatin said.
He added that the fresh measure’s “unique goal” was to “save human lives” and that “voluntary termination of pregnancies will remain a last resort”.
The influential Episcopal Conference of Benin said it was “highly preoccupied by the proposed law to legalise abortions”.
“Abortion not only destroys the life of the foetus but also that of the mother, in many aspects,” the religious group said in a statement.
Globally, abortion laws vary wildly with only a minority of countries having outright bans.
Women living in Europe, North America and Oceania benefit from the most liberal legislation, in some cases acquired only recently.
New Zealand, for instance, only decriminalised abortion in March 2020. Up to then it was punishable with a 14-year prison term.