The benefit of easing abortion laws in African countries

Woman from Ghana advocating for liberal abortion laws

Do We Need Abortion Laws?

Do we need abortion laws? A controversial question, yes, so before asking us that, we should go back to basics and answer the following: what is abortion?

Abortion is a medical procedure that ends a pregnancy for different reasons. It is estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies worldwide end in an abortion every year.

Abortions will occur, whether they are legal or not

The need for terminating a pregnancy may be common, but access may not be readily available for those who may need safe services. It is well known that access to abortion is a dividing topic globally. Although both sides may have definite arguments as to whether laws should be eased or restricted, there will always be a need for it no matter the legislation.

Therefore, people will find means and ways to have the procedure when they need it, with or without the consent of the law. It should be then observed that there is an ethical imperative to make sure that all abortions that will be made will be done so in a safe manner so as to protect the lives and health of those who undergo the procedure.

According to an article by Amnesty International(2), in order to reduce instances of complications that may occur during termination, they should be undertaken by a trained health-care provider in the most sanitary of conditions. On the other hand, when the laws generally restrict access to abortions, people then have almost no choice but to resort to other options.

In some countries, there are laws that typically allows for what are known as narrow exceptions to the legislation criminalizing abortion. These exceptions might be when pregnancy is as a result of rape, incest, or in some cases of severe and fatal fetal impairment, or when there may be risk to the life or health of the pregnant person.

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of unwanted pregnancies are due to these reasons, according to the Guttmacher Institute,(3) just 1% of women obtain an abortion because they became pregnant through rape, and less than 0.5% do so because of incest meaning a majority of women and girls living under these laws might be forced to seek unsafe options and put their health and lives at risk.

Criminalizing Abortions leads to the Increase of Unsafe Abortions

Preventing the supply of abortions does not automatically reduce the demand. This is the simple reason why restrictions of the accessibility does next to nothing to reduce the number of abortions in the country. It leads only to growing instances of people going in for unsafe abortions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) (4), an unsafe abortion is “a procedure for terminating an unintended pregnancy carried out either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards or both.” It is estimated that 25 million unsafe abortions take place each year and the vast majority occur in developing countries. During 2010–2014, an average of about one in four abortions in Africa were safe. (5)

Unlike legal abortions that are carried out by a trained medical professional, the unsafe ones have fatal consequences to the health and life of the individual undergoing the procedure. The WHO identified them as the third leading cause of maternal deaths worldwide and further led to an additional five million largely preventable disabilities.

These deaths and health complications can be prevented. By easing restrictions on laws, women will have the option to undergo healthy, safe terminations under sanitary conditions. Decriminalizing abortions will also reduce the stigma and encourage women, should they choose to terminate, to go for them safely without any backlash of stigmatization from their peers or society. It is also known that some are done in secret in order to avoid the stigma that may occur after the procedure depending on where they may find themselves in the world.

The Deaths and Injuries as a result of unsafe abortions are very preventable

Deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions are preventable. Yet such deaths are common in countries where access to safe abortion is limited or prohibited entirely, as the majority of women and girls who need to terminate an unwanted pregnancy are not able to legally access one.

With initial access to sex education, the use of contraceptives can also reduce instances for the need for termination as there will be reduced cases of unwanted pregnancies.

There is also sufficient evidence to show that abortion rates are higher in countries where there isn’t access to contraception(6). The opposite is observed in countries with easy access to various types of contraception.

If governments of countries with stringent laws towards abortion can accept that the laws themselves are detrimental to the health and wellbeing of people and can find ways to encourage individuals to go in for safe methods of abortion which meet the health standard. There wouldn’t be any fatalities or complications as a result of them being forced to take the less safe alternative.

Governments have a responsibility to look after the wellbeing of all its citizens. If amending their strict abortion laws can further help them protect citizens, it is imperative that they take every action to change those laws for the safety of their citizens.

Easing the laws will not increase the cases of abortions, they will occur either way. It is best to make as many of them that occur be as safe as possible for all those who decide to undergo it.

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About the author: Angela is a sexual and reproductive health advocate, a youth activist, and a feminist! She believes in women’s rights and advocates for the rights of women and girls in Ghana by being the leader of SheDecides Ghana.

Facebook: Angela Bortey

Instagram/Twitter- @B_teley


  1. Amnesty International, Key Facts on Abortion:
  2. Amnesty International, Key Facts on Abortion:
  3. Guttmacher Institute: Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions:Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives
  4. World Health Organization. Safe abortion: technical and policy guidance for health systems:;jsessionid=B7AEEBE4F34809D869F73B1ABA7F6221?sequence=1
  5. Guttmacher Institute: International Abortion:
  6. Guttmacher Institute: Contraceptive Use Is Key to Reducing Abortion Worldwide: