President Julius Maada Bio has on Friday 1st July, 2022 announced his government support for the decriminalization of abortion in Sierra Leone, through a proposed ‘Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act’ which now awaits to be taken to Parliament for approval.
The President made the announcement on the final day of the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights hosted in Freetown where feminist organizations from different countries converged in support of sexual health and reproductive rights
The bill titled ‘Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act’ which has already been drafted and approved by the cabinet will legalize abortion if sails through Parliament.
Until approved by Parliamentary, abortion is currently prohibited in Sierra Leone. Attempts to legalize abortion in 2015 was blocked by former President Ernest Bai Koroma who refused sign the ‘Safe abortion Bill’ unanimously approved by Parliament after a backlash by religious leaders and a heated public debate.
The former President said the Bill went above the AU Maputo Protocol and requested for it to be put into a referendum.
It is not clear whether the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Bill’ will get the unanimous support the Safe Abortion Bill received in 2015 considering the hunk nature of the current Parliament. However the bill already has the full support of the President and his cabinet, giving it greater chances to pass through the legislative house.
Despite being illegal, abortion is secretly ongoing in Sierra Leone, often performed without medical supervision and in unsafe settings as a result of the restrictive laws and poor access to sexual and reproductive health services. The practice has been linked to be a key contributor to the high maternal deaths in Sierra Leone.
Announcing the his government support to decriminalize abortion, President Bio said Sierra Leone is proud to lead the progressive reform at a time when sexual reproductive health rights for the women are being threatened in the world.
Reacting to the announcement in a press statement, Rosa Bransky and Chernor Bah, co-founders of Purposeful, a feminist organization for girls’ activism in Sierra Leone which has been advocating for reproductive rights, including the right to abortion said they are thrilled that President Bio has announced the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act. They said the Bill will help reduce the country’s maternal mortality rate by opening access to safe and legal abortion.
“This monumental step forward is big step towards victory for our communities and the coalition of women’s rights organizations and movements in Sierra Leone who have been advocating for legal, policy and social change to decriminalize abortion. The news of the approval for the bill shows that President Bio and his cabinet are listening to women’s rights organizations, Bransky and Bah wrote in their press release.
However, they said decriminalization of abortion will not make it accessible to everyone who needs one overnight, and stigma within communities remains. They called on the government to ensure that the law is passed, fully implemented, including with new guidelines on abortion provision, training for health care providers, procurement of abortion medication, and funding.
“We are inspired to see our country emerge from a legacy of violence against women during more than a decade-long civil war and demonstrate global leadership in ensuring safe, healthy pregnancies and abortion care access,” they said.
“As a teenager I nearly bled to death after a backstreet abortion,” Josephine Kamara, a feminist activist with Purposeful disclosed, saying “let this generation be the last to experience the horrors of what happens when women’s most basic reproductive health needs are pushed underground.”
She referred to the announcement as a landmark moment for girls and women in this country that shows readiness to build a world where women can live in the most basic of dignities and able to make choices over their own bodies.
“The Bill announced today shows that President Bio and his administration are listening to women’s rights organizations and to the needs of women and girls in Sierra Leone,” Purposeful said.