Sierra Leone Takes Steps to Decriminalize Abortion
In Freetown, while speaking at the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone announced that his administration has unanimously endorsed a bill on risk-free motherhood. The adopted draft law will decriminalize abortion in the country.
In a country with one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world, campaigners and women’s rights advocates have been working tirelessly for the adoption of a bill dedicated to women’s reproductive health.
Women’s rights organizations have pushed for years to amend the country’s colonial-era abortion law that forces women to face severe barriers when attempting to access prenatal, abortion, and contraceptive care.
Finally, after years of work and cooperation by government officials and a large coalition of women’s rights organizations, the provisions of the safe motherhood and reproductive health bills have been agreed upon by cabinet ministers.
The bill is currently being prepared, and campaigners believe it will be brought to parliament by September and passed this year.
The conference organizers welcomed the decision as a significant advance for Sierra Leonean women and rights organizations working on behalf of women in Sierra Leone.
Bio stated he was “proud” of Sierra Leone’s “progressive reform” citing women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health being threatened in other parts of the world.
The United States Supreme Court recently removed American women’s constitutional right to abortion with the overturning of Roe V. Wade. Bio made a point to say that the law “would ensure the health and dignity of all girls and women of reproductive age in the country.”
The present abortion law in Sierra Leone was established in 1861, a century before the country gained independence from Britain. It does not allow for an abortion procedure to take place unless the mother’s life is in danger.
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Sierra Leone holds one of the highest mortality rates in the world, with records from 2017 showing 1,120 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.
Furthermore, Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world, with about 30% of females between the ages of 15 and 19 giving birth, despite the fact that more girls and young women are using modern contraceptives.
The nation attempted to pass a law on safe abortions in 2015, but Ernest Bai Koroma, the president at the time, refused to approve it because of pressure from religious organizations within the country.
Rosa Bransky and Chernor Bah, co-chief executives of Purposeful, a girls’ rights group, praised the government and described the decision as “a monumental step forward” but emphasized that the work isn’t finished and that there was more to be done.
“We know that decriminalization of abortion will not make it accessible to everyone who needs one overnight, and the stigma within our communities remains.”
They continued, “The government now must ensure that the law is fully implemented, including with new guidelines on abortion provision, training for healthcare providers, procurement of abortion medications, and funding.”
Sierra Leonean feminist activist Josephine Kamara said, “This is a landmark moment for girls and women in this country, and it shows we are now building a world where we can live in the most basic of dignities: to make choices over our own bodies.”