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Historic vote vastly broadens access to safe abortion in Benin

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26 October 2021 Tags: Advocacy, Africa, Benin, law, right here right now, Safe abortion, She makes her safe choice

Last week, the parliament in Benin voted to legalise safe abortion, moving on from legislation in which abortion was only allowed under restricted conditions. This historic vote is a tremendous win for women and girls in Benin. Rutgers’ partner ABPF has led the advocacy for this groundbreaking change, which is now one of the more progressive legislations on the African continent.

In the West African country abortion was only allowed under strict conditions. These included when the life of a pregnant woman was threatened or when severe medical conditions were found in the fetus. With this newly amended law, the grounds for legal abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy have been considerably expanded, by including “when the pregnancy is likely to aggravate or cause a situation of material, educational, professional or moral distress incompatible with the interests of the woman and/or the unborn child”.

Benin now joins a select group of countries in Africa, with only Zambia and Ethiopia allowing abortion based on socio-economic grounds and only Cape Verde, Mozambique, South Africa and Tunisia having more progressive abortion laws.

Many lives will be saved

In Benin unsafe abortions account for 20% of maternal deaths, estimates Minister of Health, Mr. Benjamin Hounkpatin. Abortion is riskier in Sub-Saharan Africa than in any other region in the world. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 77% of abortions in this region are unsafe (2010–2014), compared with the global average of 45%. With the amended legislation in Benin, many lives will be saved.

Women and girls in Benin now have the right to make decisions about their health and to access appropriate services
Judith Maffon Gbehinto, National President of ABPF

Continued advocacy critical

Women and girls in Benin cannot yet benefit from the new law. Implementation decrees (implementing regulations) need to first be adopted before the law can be implemented by health care providers. This could, unfortunately, take a while.

Reason enough for ABPF and other progressive stakeholders to continue their advocacy. “We have fought long and hard for this legislation, but our work is not over. Now, more than ever, we must continue to advocate for the removal of any barriers to the implementation of this law. We will continue to work in partnership with the Ministry of Health and civil society organisations to ensure that the implementation decrees are issued and to support the health system,” shared Judith Maffon Gbehinto, National President of ABPF.

Rutgers has supported ABPF within its She Makes Her Safe Choice programme aimed at reducing unsafe abortions and they are also a partner in the Right Here Right Now programme. We have also promoted collaboration between partners in Benin and beyond to advocate for safe abortion in Benin and the region.

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