Autonomy is power: Why women should have abortion rights

The subject of abortion is invariably surrounded by intense debate. In discussions held across various platforms, voices clash over the moral and ethical dimensions of abortion, with individuals eagerly seizing the floor to argue for or against women’s autonomy in making this deeply personal choice.

The issue extends into the realm of legal and constitutional frameworks, significantly restricting women’s rights in numerous countries worldwide. This includes compelling cases where women are forced to carry to-term pregnancies with severe fetal abnormalities or face incarceration for experiencing miscarriages. Those in power (predominantly men) often impose restrictive measures and are fueled by religious beliefs and societal norms.

Abortion in Nigeria

Nigeria’s abortion regulations are derived from the North’s Criminal Code and the South’s Penal Code. Although there are differences in its interpretation and practice, abortion is theoretically legal when done to save a woman’s life. If an abortion is performed in “good faith” to save the mother’s life after evaluating her health, it is permitted by Section 297. However, the law remains murky and outdated, tracing over a hundred years.

It’s nebulous who gets to assess the patient’s health condition and decide on the eligibility for the procedure—be it medical professionals or family members. This legal vagueness, steeped in stringent conditions and opaque guidelines, frequently leaves women in the dark regarding their reproductive freedoms. Consequently, both the women seeking abortions and the healthcare providers involved are at risk of facing harsh repercussions.

While the constitution affirms women’s right to health, the journey to safe and legal abortion services remains fraught with challenges for numerous Nigerian women. Hindered by limited access to healthcare professionals and the scarcity of abortion facilities, women are compelled to navigate this path clandestinely, resorting to dangerous methods that endanger their lives and wellbeing.

In the digital age, reclaiming reproductive rights and championing bodily autonomy have become pivotal movements for countless women on social platforms. A key battleground in this online activism is sparking dialogues about the paramount importance of women having the sovereignty to make their own choices regarding their bodies. This conversation challenges the status quo, questioning why legislative decisions about women’s bodies should rest in the hands of lawmakers (notably men) with minimal understanding of the female experience.


Even as the laws surrounding women’s reproductive rights seem unyielding, abortions persist beyond the legal framework, exposing women to the harrowing realities of unsafe procedures.

The realities of unsafe abortions

The repercussions of limiting access to safe abortion services are dire and cannot be overstated. In Nigeria, the situation is particularly alarming, as a staggering 10% to 20% of all pregnancies result in spontaneous abortions. This high prevalence of unsafe abortions significantly escalates the risk of maternal fatalities, underscoring a critical public health crisis that demands immediate and compassionate attention.

The World Health Organisation believes that unsafe abortions contribute to a significant number of maternal deaths, emphasising the critical need for reform and improved healthcare infrastructure.

According to a research paper by the World Health Organization, Nigeria currently has the world’s third-highest maternal death rate, closely following Chad and Sudan respectively. Aside from the lack of sufficient health services in the country, unsafe abortions contribute significantly to the statistics.

What the experts say about abortion

Abortion, when done right, is always safe, but according to Okai Haruna Aku, the executive director of Planned Parenthood in Nigeria, he has seen the damages that unsafe practices have caused in Nigeria.

“If you want to procure abortion and you end up with a trained service provider, good. They will do the abortion very well. But most of the time, people end up with unsafe conditions,” says Okai Haruna Aku.

The conversation around the impact and stigma of unsafe abortions is often overlooked, leaving a crucial aspect of women’s health and rights in the shadows. In a revealing discussion, Dr. Folasade Olugbemi, a dedicated general practitioner at a private hospital, passionately emphasized women’s critical need for autonomy over their choices. Dr. Olugbemi shed light on the significance of empowering women with the freedom to decide about their bodies, advocating for the essential right to choose.

“I don’t think it is advantageous to female reproductive health not to be pro-choice. Forcing a woman to carry a child she doesn’t want or cannot properly cater to, depending on her circumstances, can cause long-term psychological effects on her.”

The reasons why a woman may want to get an abortion are numerous. However, based on societal influence, religious biases, and policies that police women’s bodies, women are forced to employ dangerous and unhygienic means to ensure they have an abortion.

“Pregnancy is a very dangerous thing to go through. I say that both as a woman and a doctor. Every single day you are pregnant, your life’s on the line, and that’s why I think a woman shouldn’t be forced to carry a pregnancy she doesn’t want to term.”

Dr. Folasade Olugbemi insists that while the right to choose is paramount, it’s equally vital to keep the dialogue around contraception alive and ongoing. This ensures that abortion isn’t viewed as the sole option for contraception among women. By promoting informed conversations about various contraceptive methods, we can support women in making empowered decisions about their reproductive health.

To be pro-choice is to be pro-women.

Supporting women’s fundamental rights to make decisions about their bodies, futures, and reproductive health free from coercion and interference is what it means to be pro-choice. At its core, it confirms women’s agency and equality. To support women’s agencies, the following things need to be done:

Respect Women’s Autonomy

Denying women the freedom to make their own choices about pregnancy undermines their autonomy, reducing them to mere conduits for reproduction. This perspective fails to recognize women as autonomous beings with the capacity to make informed decisions about their lives.

Protect Women’s Health

When abortion laws are stringent or outright prohibitions are in place, women find themselves cornered into seeking perilous and secretive methods, putting their health and lives at grave risk. Advocates—individuals and organizations—stand at the forefront, championing women’s health and well-being by ardently supporting the right to choose. Ensuring access to safe and legal abortion services is a crucial step in averting the undue distress, health complications, and fatalities that inevitably arise when women are stripped of this critical healthcare choice.

Challenge stigma and shame

Cultivating an atmosphere of openness and solidarity can significantly diminish the feelings of isolation and judgment many women face. This approach nurtures a society that is more compassionate and deeply understanding.

Ensure legal protection

Upholding the right to choose through legal means ensures that women can make decisions about their bodies free from coercion and interference. It also sends a powerful message that women’s rights are human rights and must be upheld and protected by the law.

By supporting women’s reproductive rights, we acknowledge each woman’s intrinsic worth and dignity and her freedom to choose how her life will unfold. By doing this, we get one step closer to realising a society where women are empowered, treated equally, and allowed to live as they see fit.


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