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Cases of unsafe abortions rise in Ghana

(DW/DPA, Isaac Kalezi, Sifa News)

The number of unsafe abortions continues to rise in Ghana, reaching 16 000 in 2011 from 8 000 in 2009 and 10 000 in 2010, a report by Ghana’s Adolescent Health and Development Programme shows.

Though the statistics for recent years were not available, it is believed that more pregnant women in this West African country are taking the ‘dangerous’ decision to do away with their unborn babies through the back door.

The increasing number of fatalities has prompted calls for the easing of the abortion law so that the safe termination of pregnancy could be within reach of all who desire it.

Ten years ago at the age of 18, Adease got pregnant. The young Ghanaian was not married, so her parents forced her to have an abortion.

“It was an ordeal. I walked into a small room and there were people lying on the floor,” she told Deutsche Welle (DW).

“I had to pass them and lie down on a metal bed with a pillow. When I woke up, I felt very weak and couldn’t really help myself. The nurse helped me to get out and my father took me home. At home, I was bleeding all night and all week.”

Diane, now aged 35, had undergone 11 separate abortions, all unsafe and all carried out by herself with only her boyfriend at her side.

“I didn’t have any medicine or anything, the only thing I did was to buy pain killers, until the last one I did which landed me in hospital,” she said.
If she survived, her friend however did not. “My friend didn’t come back again, she died.”

Unlike South Africa, which legalised abortion in 1996 after the National Assembly enacted the Termination of Pregnancy (TOP) Act, abortion in many African countries is illegal and therefore a criminal offence that carries a jail sentence of up to 10 years.

An estimated 22 million unsafe abortions are carried out every year worldwide, almost all in low and middle-income countries, according to a World Health Organisation 2015 report.

Some 68 000 women die of unsafe abortion annually, making it one of the leading causes of maternal mortality (13%), and of the women who survive unsafe abortion, five million will suffer long-term health complications, according to a US National Library of Medicine’ National Institute of Health report.

Abortion is legal in Ghana but there are restrictions. If the foetus is damaged, and the pregnancy is endangering a woman’s life or if it is the result of rape, then abortion is permitted under Ghanaian law. But most pregnant women wanting abortions don’t fall into one of those three categories.

Unintended pregnancies are generally not socially acceptable in Ghana and official health centers can be forbidding places for young pregnant women.  They may feel less intimidated in a less formal environment – sometimes with tragic consequences. Many women opt for a risky abortion rather than early motherhood.

Vincentia Mottey, who teaches at the Korle Bu Nursing and Midwifery Training College, admitted that medical facilities in Ghana have an image problem.

“A teenager or underage person who is not married, coming alone, feels there is a stigma attached to it, so we need to make the facility itself more friendly,” she said.

Research also shows that Ghana also suffering from a ‘skin-to-skin’ sex syndrome, which increases their chances of landing up with STDs (sexually transmittable diseases) and unwanted pregnancies.

Health rights activist Raphael Godlove Ahenu Junior said laws and attitudes needed to change. “Unsafe abortion is the second most common cause of maternal mortality,” he told DW.

But any attempt by policymakers to legalise abortion could be met by stiff resistance from religious establishments.

(additional reporting and final editing by Issa Sikiti)

Photo credit: Ghana News Agency

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