The topic of abortion is very controversial even among feminists. The two major arguments are between the pro-choice activists who advocate for its legalisation and the pro-life supporters who defend its ban. The argument however, is not only restricted to America and Europe but also to West and Central Africa and the MENA regions where heinous practices of gender inequality are at their peak.
Pro-choice supporters submit that legalising abortion and following it to the letter is a fulfillment of a woman’s right to freedom of choice over her body and therefore, it promotes gender equality. Although still in support of women’s rights, pro-life defenders on the other hand, believe in the fundamental right to life, which abortion denies. While these two different opposing views have their solid points, I strongly argue, from a West African perspective that legalising abortion is not in favour of women but instead, widens gender inequality.
While some pro-life defenders believe that right to life is more important than equality, I argue that both are incredibly important and that abortion undermines equality. The right to life does not override equality; rather it is a fundamental part in achieving it. While strongly subscribing to universal sacredness of human life, my argument is based on the submission that the context and situation of an environment determine the consequences of whatever action taken whether as a person, group or as a State. So while the differing views about abortion may be applicable and seemingly helpful in other parts of the world, they may not be in West Africa; where sexual violence, corruption and patriarchy are thriving.
Legalised abortion would increase men’s autonomy
An important question to ask is: whose decision is abortion? In most cases, it is the “woman’s decision” pressured by the man.
In Africa, 1 in 4 women cannot say no to sex to their husband and even in cases of abortion, many other women are forced by their partners regardless of the physical, emotional and health effects. These show the autonomy men have over women and the little or no rights women have over their own body.
Sometimes, the fear of taking responsibility over unwanted pregnancy or the health risk of abortion discourages men from indulging in sexual violence. However, with legalised abortion, women would become more trapped in sexual violence as legalisation removes the fear of unwanted pregnancy.
The main argument in favour of abortion is that it allows the woman to exercise a woman’s right to freedom of choice over her body. Autonomy is the word for that. Truth is, women in Africa hardly ever have any rights over their own body and legalizing abortion cannot make that happen overnight.
Legalised abortion would wave other issues
A major argument for pro-life supporters is that abortion brushes over other underlying issues that prompt abortion. This point plays out well in the West African context where issues of gender inequality and women’s rights bear very little weight.
One of the reasons why women opt for abortion is economic hardship either from exploitation at work or no livelihood means at all. However, the underlying issue here is the difficulty in catering for one more child. Not the child itself. Therefore the solution would be to increase the woman’s economic capacity and her knowledge about family planning.
Also, a rape event that results into pregnancy cannot be solved with abortion. The solution is to convict the rapist and for the woman, provide rehabilitation and care to support her pregnancy. While some think that abortion would help the woman heal faster psychologically, the thought of ‘child murder’ as some put it in West Africa, would actually cause emotional problems for the woman on the long run.
Legalized abortion would shift our attention from addressing these particular issues to the pregnancy, which in most cases is not the actual problem.
Legalised abortion may increase mortality
The WHO reports that Africa accounted for the most deaths from unsafe abortion and so providing safe abortions would be a way to reduce mortality rate. This submission however forgets that, in this same Africa, inadequate health facilities and archaic cultures are big threats to women’s health.
Many places in West Africa secretly provide unsafe abortions. The argument is that if abortion is legalised, women can freely walk to qualified and approved health facilities to demand abortion. Malaria treatment is legal; prenatal and childbirth care is legal but why does the majority continue going to unsafe, illegal places for these legal treatments as well? Legalising abortion will not remove dangerous abortion – not among the poor in Africa. Lack of finance, cultural prohibitions or even carefree attitudes towards health would hinder access to safe abortions.
The West African context cannot accommodate abortion positively. Sadly, legalised abortion has gained momentum in Western countries and so; West Africa needs to be pro-active as things in the West always have a way of reaching Africa.