Women in Benin may soon be able to conditionally abort pregnancies without the fear of prosecution after parliamentarians in the West African nation voted to legalize it. Abortion in the country was already legalized under certain conditions prior to Wednesday’s vote, AFP reported.
Per the new law, women can abort a pregnancy within the first three months if there’s a chance having a baby can “aggravate or cause material, educational, professional or moral distress, incompatible with the woman or the unborn child’s interest.”
The country’s previous abortion law allowed women to terminate pregnancies if it “threatened the life of the mother”, was as a result of “rape or incest” or in situations where the “unborn child has a particularly severe affection.”
And though some members of parliament argued against the legalization of abortion in the country during Wednesday’s heated debate, the law was eventually passed. “In Benin, nearly 200 women die each year as the result of abortion complications,” the country’s health minister, Benjamin Hounkpatin, said in a statement on Thursday.
“This measure will be a relief for many women who face undesired pregnancies, and are forced to put their lives in danger with botched abortions.”
Hounkpatin added that 20% of maternal deaths in the tiny West African country was as a result of complications related to abortion, AFP reported, per Al Jazeera. “It is because of this public health threat that the government has taken its responsibilities by submitting a text that lawmakers have passed,” he revealed.
Hounkpatin also said the new law is primarily intended to “save human lives”, and the “voluntary termination of pregnancies will remain a last resort.”
Responding to the law, the Episcopal Conference of Benin in a statement said it was “highly preoccupied by the proposed law to legalize abortions.” “Abortion not only destroys the life of the fetus but also that of the mother, in many aspects,” the group added.
A number of African countries including the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal still have complete abortion bans.