Social media now a safe haven for Nigerians seeking abortion in spite of Nigeria’s anti-abortion laws
While abortion is officially illegal in Nigeria, access to social media is now allowing those seeking abortion to get free tips on available methods.
On February 10, SubDeliveryZone, one of Nigeria’s active social media handles that allows individuals to discretely get message across to a larger audience posted one from a boyfriend whose girlfriend got pregnant and they were in search of available abortion options that would be effective in getting rid of the pregnancy.
While several responders condemned the young couple for seeking abortion, advising them to start preparing for the baby instead, there were several recommendations on how to get rid of the pregnancy. The most popular one was provided by beauty essentials retailer Adunola, who said the pregnancy can be eliminated by taking two tablets of cytotec with two tabs of quinine(A malaria drug) use it with gin;don’t drink water for the next 30mins
This is not the first time that social media platforms would be used by abortion information seekers as the existence of closed and secret groups, and health information pages are encouraging individuals that are contemplating abortion to openly talk about their intentions and get advices on how to carry the steps out – even though individuals providing the advice are not medical professionals.
Prior to the advent of social media, illegal abortions had been carried out by local pharmacies who charge about N1,000 for the drugs that are often hidden behind antimalarial drugs and cough syrup since it is illegal to offer abortion services in the country.
Misoprostol (brand name is Cytotec) is the most popular drug that is used for this purpose. In remote parts of the country, the drug can be easily sold to anyone that asks for it. But in areas where law enforcement officers regulate visit, the pharmacists often request for a prescription before selling Cytotec — even though the request can be bought at some clinics even without seeing a doctor. In most cases however, the prescription is not demanded and the drug is directly sold to the buyer.
Abortion is illegal
While abortion is a controversial topic in Nigeria, the law is clear – it is illegal to seek or perform abortion especially if the life of the mother is not threatened. As a matter of fact, Nigeria’s abortion laws makes it one of the most restrictive countries regarding abortion.
The abortion laws of the Criminal Code are expressed within sections 228, 229, and 230. Section 228 states that any person providing a miscarriage to a woman is guilty of a felony and up to 14 years of imprisonment. Section 229 states that any woman obtaining a miscarriage is guilty of a felony and up to imprisonment for 7 years. Section 230 states that anyone supplying anything intended for a woman’s miscarriage is also guilty of a felony and up to 3 years of imprisonment.
Since abortion is illegal in Nigeria, many women resort to unsafe abortion methods, leading to abortion-related complications and increasing mortality and morbidity rates in the country. According to the Guttmacher Institute, an estimated 456,000 unsafe abortions are done in Nigeria every year. In a joint study carried out by the Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians of Nigeria and Nigeria’s Ministry of Health, estimates of women who engage in unsafe abortion were put at about 20,000 each year. Research has revealed that only 40% of abortions are performed by physicians with improved health facilities while the remaining percentage are performed by non-physicians.
Despite the combined and continued efforts of various Nigerian and International advocacy groups, only a woman whose life is endangered can undergo a legally performed abortion today. But this has not stopped Nigerians from seeking and getting abortion services. Instead, it had created an enabling space from providers of illegal abortion services across the country. In addition individuals seek abortion information on their own and perform the process only presenting at the hospitals when there are complications. According to this study, abortion is responsible for 40% of maternal deaths in Nigeria, making it the second leading cause of maternal mortality in the country. The situation is further complicated by religion as revealed in a survey by Pew Research Center which showed that 91 percent of Muslims and 94 percent of Christians in Nigeria believe that abortion is wrong.
The internet generation
While issues leading to unwanted pregnancies and quest for abortion are related to the youth and adolescent, the fact that thousands of abortions are performed annually suggest a shortcoming in the family planning and safe sex advocacy in Nigeria.
Adolescents are the most in need of family planning services, if they adopt safe practices to avoid unplanned pregnancy, the problems arising from abortion could start to decline. However, a reviewrevealed that a major issue with teens in Nigeria, is that they are the most likely not to use contraceptives to avoid pregnancy and the most likely to turn to unsafe abortion practices. This is now being aided by the easy access to the wealth of information on the internet particularly recommendations that can be gotten via social media.
While medical experts may base their arguments against accessing abortion information on social media since many of the information providers are not medical professionals, HealthNews.NGhas presented some abortion information that are available online to obstetricians and gynaecologists who confirmed that several of the information are actually valid.
Outside Nigeria, there are organizations that have O&G specialists that have prepared guideline on how a woman can carry out abortion on her own. One of such is Women on Web. According to the organization, a medical abortion works best if the medicines are taken as early as possible in pregnancy and are most effective up to 70 days (10 weeks) of pregnancy. It also uploaded the video below that specifically and clearly direct pregnant women that are seeking abortion on what to do. They also allow the pregnant woman to receive the abortion pills my mail.
According to their guideline, there are expected signs and when things go wrong, they told the woman to go to the emergency unit of any hospital. Instead of telling the doctors that she had abortion, she can say she had a miscarriage instead since the signs and manifestations after abortion are similar to those of miscarriage. When such a woman appears at the hospital, she would be assisted in completing the evacuation and things will be back to normal thus evading the entrapment of Nigeria’s abortion laws and persecution from religious brethren.
In spite of the legal point of view, a passionate contingent of activists, including the international women’s health organizations, Ipas and Marie Stopes International (MSI), and the local Campaign Against Unwanted Pregnancy has been pushing to make abortion safer. Working within the legal restrictions, this has often meant focusing on post-abortion care (PAC), which includes training providers and equipping medical centers to deal with women who have miscarried or induced an abortion without a qualified provider. “We don’t even talk about abortion. We talk about PAC and train them on that,” Richard Boustred of MSI said.
In 2009 afterIpasand others pushed the government, Nigeria became the first country in the world to add misoprostol to its essential medicines list for post-abortion care. The drug has now become much more widely available. MSI has worked to get misoprostol into pharmacies and train pharmacists on its proper use.
The thing about post-abortion care is that it looks awfully like abortion care. The only difference is where the abortion started. But in a medical and pharmaceutical market asmessyand unregulated as Nigeria’s, a side effect is that this drug intended for use by doctors to complete a half-done abortion is also now available for women to buy and use on their own.
Updating or rewriting Nigeria’s abortion laws
Even though religious sentiments persist regarding abortion, the fact that the procedure continues to be carried out illegally is a strong indication of the shortcoming of Nigeria’s position on the subject of abortion and how it is going about enforcing it.
And with more Nigerians having internet access via mobile devices than ever, it is now very easy (and free) to get the information that they need to successfully and safely carry out the procedure without presenting at the hospitals where they can be added to the country’s abortion database thus suggesting that there could be more abortions happening in Nigeria than are reported since no one knows how many of the procedures were successful.
Addressing the loophole provided by social media and the internet could pose a greater debacle to the Nigerian government than abortion itself since the only available options are either censoring the internet for abortion content or throwing its way behind efforts to make abortion safer which would be in line with the Nigerian government’s vision to end maternal mortality by 2030.
By: Paul Adepoju