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Imo State ‘Abortion’ Law: Twists and Turns.

– Elvis –Wura Towolawi

Literally, peace and tranquility has eluded the Executive and Legislative arms of Government in Imo State for passing into Law the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Bill which was sponsored by Mrs. Stella Ihuoma, the Majority Leader and Member representing Ahiazu Mbaise State Constituency in the State House of Assembly. The Church (especially the Catholic Church), being the people-power-base has been pitched against the State Government for making such an ‘obnoxious and immoral’ law which to them is an explicit endorsement of murder infanticide; and in turn would encourage promiscuity among the people. Predictably, Governor Rochas Okorocha cowered to ‘holy threats’ and apologized in a politic fashion to the people feigning ignorance of the purport of the Law, and further appealed to the law makers not only to amend the law but to delete the ‘controversial section’ completely from the Law. (See: Daily Trust News, Wednesday September 4, 2013). On the other side of the scale, the Legislature has alleged in defense of the Law that the House was misunderstood and misconstrued by the people, as the intent of the Law was to “address all forms of violence against women”. However, what is of import to one is: the status of abortion when juxtaposed against women’s reproductive rights and well-being; and more so, the desirability to season moral agitation and speculation with reason for balance, equity and equality in this variegated world of ours. Fundamentally, section 40 (G) (i) of the Violence against persons (prohibition) Law, Imo State of Nigeria stands at the root of the brouhaha. It provides, Every woman shall have the right to enjoy reproductive rights including the right to ‘medical abortion’ in case of sexual assault, rape, incest or where the continued pregnancy endangers the life or the physical, mental, psychological or emotional health of the mother. Clearly, from a plain reading of the above provision, it shows that ‘medical abortion’ is permissible for women as a furtherance of their reproductive rights on several grounds: ‘sexual assault’, rape’ incest’ and ‘health – related basis’. That is, women by the Law are conferred with the right to have an abortion where the pregnancy resulted from acts of ‘sexual assaults, rape, incest’ or where the ‘continued pregnancy’ imperils the life and well-being or health of the woman or mother. The long and short of the provision is that it affirms women’s rights to exercise reproductive decisions; and that includes in certain cases – abortion. The question of abortion is a thorny subject in view of the fact that it is an admixture of morality autonomy and individual liberty and freedom; and this explains why those who take only the moral or religious stance, view and attitude never address and appraise it fairly and reasonably. (See: Abortion, Ignorance, Hypocrisy & Religion/ Abortion, being the termination of foetus before it grows into a full-fledged baby or person has drawn a lot of venom, vituperations and vexation, both of religious, moral and social colouration. Prolife proponents have argued that the life of a human being starts at conception; it is sacrosanct and sacred because from the beginning it involves the creative force of God and remains forever (See: Fr.Nnabuihe Iwuala/ And since man cannot play God and create life, it is tantamount to murderous criminality to cut short a budding flower of life for whatever reason. To them, it amounts to an infringement of the right to life of the growing baby, and worst when perpetuated by the mother, the carrier of the life. But pro-choice advocates have placed the woman in the burning triangle – her right to decide what happens to her body. Are foetuses to be more prized than the well-being of women? Are foetuses really entitled to the right to life against their mothers? When the decision in Roe v. Wade was handed down, women’s rights activists and hard-line feminists celebrated the supposed triumph of feminine independence. Now, Roe v. Wade is a United States Supreme Court decision that invalidated any state law that prohibited ‘first trimester’ abortion on grounds that it violated the guarantee of personal liberty and the right to privacy implicitly guaranteed in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. Though it came with some fanatical acts ending in deaths, and protests by anti-abortionists, thousands of American women who once sought ‘black market’ abortions’ used to die before Roe, and now such number of women don’t die. (See: Carole Joffe, Roe v. Wade and Beyond: Forty Years of Legal Abortion in the United States/ More so, pro-choice adherents believe that a woman should be entitled to exercise reproductive rights: to decide what happens to her body – whether to have a child or not. By restricting women from exercising such rights, they are invariably deprived of personal liberty, privacy and freedom; besides, unwanted and unplanned pregnancies and children impend the chances of women bettering their lots in life. Many women have suffered unprintable trauma, shame and odium from rape, incest and sexual assault leading to pregnancies. Without an abortion, they will be scared and ruined for life; trapped in the pit of bastard-parenthood with unspeakable impact on the socio-psychological growth and maturation of the off-springs. Should a woman keep a pregnancy when her life is at stake? Shouldn’t at least ‘medical abortion’ be allowed to save the woman and take a lesser evil? The thrust of the pro-choice argument is dimensioned on women exercising and enjoying their reproductive rights in a safe, legal and free atmosphere; not as slaves – baby factories! Are foetuses “persons” deserving protection against the scalpel swiped at them to further the interest and rights of the mother? Are foetuses entitled to the right to life at the stage of their development? These are nagging queries upon which the whole abortion law controversy turns on. Well, to the pro-choice mouthpiece, foetuses are “mere appendages”; works – in – progress. Foetuses are taken not to have acquired the distinctive traits of human personality in spite of their striking resemblance to man, say like other primates. That is, until they are delivered, full, bouncing and crying, they are not entitled to the right to life which can be asserted against the mother. In line with this position, Mary Ann Warren, a Philosopher and Core pro-choice advocate argues thus: A woman’s right to protect her health, happiness, freedom, and even her life by terminating an unwanted pregnancy will always override whatever right to life may be appropriate to ascribe to a foetus… So much for the heat generated by both sides of the divide. And Truth being a double-edged sword should be wielded with care lest fanaticism seeps in, blind reason and plunge us into an abyss of unreason, primitive dogmas and beliefs. The route to Truth is like a circle, one does not get there walking on a straight well-trodden path. It is a universal truth that every being and thing is contained in a seed; a tree a forest; a foetus – human race. So whence does the irrational idea that a foetus is no human until it leaves the mother’s womb and thus can be killed at will to satisfy the ever-evolving taste and desire of women? Yes, there are still births and miscarriages, but a woman shouldn’t be allowed to exercise any indiscriminate reproductive rights pertaining to abortion; well, except on health grounds. Foetuses have the right to grow into full-fledged persons capable of enjoying and exercising inalienable rights – hence, the women’s right over her body should be tempered to accommodate another’s right to life inexorably intertwined with hers. Perhaps, the use of safe contraceptive is a better way to control “unwanted pregnancies”. And any Law that gives women unlimited right to procure an abortion at her caprice is genocidal. But let it be punctuated here that pregnancies had by rape, incest and sexual assault are damaging to the women and children. Thus, concession would be given on those gender-based grounds to allow an abortion in order to save the face and future of violated women. Consequently, the violence against Persons (Prohibition) Law of Imo State of Nigeria is a good piece of legislation aimed at alleviating the burden of abused women folk in Imo State. The people should add to the lens of religion, reason and human rights (women’s rights). Maybe, it would become clearer why the Law should stay, unamended until tested in the furnace of experience. I say no more…

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