Why we advocate for the right to access safe medical abortion in Nigeria

Medical abortion is the termination of a pregnancy using pills. The medicines used for medical abortion are called Mifepristone and Misoprostol. These pills cause a process like a natural miscarriage. Self-managed medical abortion, in turn, is the use of abortion pills to end a pregnancy outside established medical settings, provided people have the correct information.

Self-managing an abortion in early pregnancy has proven to be safe and effective and is common throughout the world.

Information about self-managing abortion has empowering potential as it aids women in protecting their lives and health; yet speaking about it can be a challenge. Providing information about and access to medical abortion is related to healthcare, harm reduction, human rights, reproductive justice, empowerment, and stigma reduction. Considering this, at GIWYN we integrate different advocacy frameworks in relation to medical abortion to target these different areas. As an organisation committed to women’s rights, we work to increase information about safe methods of abortion, and rights-based reproductive health care. Women and girls should have access to information, as we believe that information is power.

What are the frameworks for discussing self-managed abortion?

Public health arguments for improving access to self-managed abortion are based on safety and prevention of unsafe abortion, and should be articulated by presenting scientific evidence.

The right to information means the right to seek, receive and share freely information and ideas without the interference of the state, as well as to protect women, activists and healthcare providers who disseminate and publicize information about access to safe abortion.

A harm reduction approach recognises that taking abortion medicines at home with support is safer than obtaining illegal abortion procedures, and that if abortion is going to happen anyway, then it should be made as safe as possible.

In other words, the focus is on abortion access as a human right, as such, this right is derived from a series of other human rights guaranteed by national constitutions and laws, including regional and international human rights covenants.

Lack of access to abortion is linked to systemic marginalization. Disadvantaged communities experience the most challenges to access, while at the same time being the target of population control and obstetric violence. Reproductive justice demands that we recognize and fight oppression to attain sexual freedom and autonomy. Access to abortion is therefore a matter of justice and ethics as well as of overcoming structural inequalities.

In the Nigerian context especially, stigma is manifested on multiple levels: from media and public debate, through institutions, legal regulations, community and personal beliefs, and self-judgment. Empowerment fights this stigma and promotes women’s rights and power. To give power and authority requires trust and respect for people’s autonomy and choices.

Women as moral agents have the right to decide about their fertility.

Their choice must be respected because only a pregnant person should make the decision about whether to carry the pregnancy to term. Women should be allowed to choose the type of health care that will best meet their needs and situation when they decide to safely end their pregnancy within or outside the established medical community.

As with all medical processes, abortion must be a safe option – both legally and medically. Therefore, public safety and health policy should be based on sound scientific evidence, not ideology. Abortion with pills is safe. Where the state and public system fails to support women and girls, they must help each other to stay safe and healthy.

By GIWYN (Generation Initiative Women and Girls Network), a SAAF grantee partner based in Nigeria.

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