Clash over Sierra Leone abortion bill

Since December last year, Sierra Leone parliament which is dominated by President Ernest Bai Koroma’s party, has twice passed the “Safe Abortion Bill.”

Despite the parliamentary approval, the president has refused to sign it into law because, according him, “it runs counter to the right to life enshrined in the constitution and should be put to a referendum”.

However, his opponents claim that his refusal to append his signature is simply get the favour of some powerful religious leaders. They also assert that he wants to stay in power after a constitutional two-term limit runs out next year, even though his spokesman said the president have no such plan.

Supporters of repealing Sierra Leone’s colonial-era abortion law claim it is largely unenforced in practice, with AdvocAid, a legal organisation for women and girls, saying it has handled just eight cases related to the law in the past eight years.

In Sierra Leone as with many African countries, illegal abortions are carried out by quarks and unqualified health professionals in private homes, the result of which are often fatal.

Sierra Leone has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates, with healthcare weakened by a lingering two-year Ebola epidemic and the after-effects of a decade-long civil war that ended in 2002.

The aims of the unsigned abortion bill is to reduce fatalities by allowing easy access to an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy or until week 24 in cases of rape, incest, or health risk to the foetus or the mother.

The bill has received endorsements from the African Union as well as United Nations but has been denounced by religious leaders who regard the life of the foetus as sacrosanct.