I am of the view that if we make efforts to drop our pretense and tackle some of our development issues based on the realities of the situations on ground we would achieve more. But being a society with the intellectual articulation of Ostriches, we chose to bury our heads in the ground pretending we don’t have issues. In most instances, we make political capital, while masquerading in religious garbs, out of every single thing under the sun. The best way to throw reasoning out of the window in Nigeria is to spiritualise a subject matter, in doing so, people would most willingly leave their brains at home while expecting to be taken seriously.
When the news that the Imo State government has legalized abortion broke out, I didn’t know what to make out of it. Knowing how Catholic the State is, and how conservatively steeped the Igbo society is, I told myself that I need to read the said Law. After series of research, I was able to get a grasp of what the whole drama is all about.
The said Law aptly captioned Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill (VAPPB), was sponsored by the Majority Leader of Imo State House of Assembly (IMHA), Hon. (Mrs.) Adaku Ihuoma, representing Ahiazu/Mbaise Constituency. According to her there is utmost need to check the increasing rate of violence against persons in the society, the VAPPB law came about because of the need to protect the lives of people in Imo, stating the rising cases of domestic violence, sexual violence and many other harmful traditional practices that needs to be checkmated.
But section 40 (1) (i) states as follows: “Every woman shall have the right to enjoy reproductive rights, including right to medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and where the continued pregnancy endangers the life or physical, mental, psychological or emotional health of the mother.”
Note, the said medical abortion is only ‘in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and where the continued pregnancy endangers the life or physical, mental, psychological or emotional health of the mother.”But the news that made the round never distinguished such, it gave it a blanket covering as if anybody now has the right to go and carry out an abortion. There is the need for people to cross check whatever information they get these days, especially online.
Inspite of this clear clarification,the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri and Metropolitan of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, Anthony Obinna, took up arms against the government describing the law as against human and natural justice, saying “the assent of the law by the Governor took the Catholic Church by surprise, but we would do everything possible to protest against it until it is repealed”. With this stand, all hell was let loose, even those who did not read any part of the Law declared that the Governor of Imo State has made Imo the abortion capital of Nigeria. I do not think so because it was clearly stated and even the law went ahead to define what it means by rape. The law itself was made to check possible abuses, meaning that most of the noises trailing it were unnecessary.
I still remembered what happened in the United States early this year when the US House of Representatives approved a nationwide abortion ban after 20 weeks gestation in a vote of 228 to 196.The Pain Capable Child Protection Act would ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation except to save a woman’s life. Victims of rape and incest are also exempt provided that they first report their assault to police. This is a change from the original bill which made no exception for rape or incest. Another country where such has led to public outcry is Bolivia, a strong Catholic nation. Yet in 2011, an estimated 67,000 abortions were performed illegally and unsafely according to the Bolivian Ministry of Health. These pregnancies were terminated because of rape in most cases, being that sexual violence is epidemic in Bolivia.
Currently, the country has the second highest sexual violence rate in Latin America after Haiti and according to Marie Stopes International, a non-profit organization specialized in sexual and reproductive healthcare, seven out of 10 Bolivian women are victims of sexual violence with the majority of the crimes perpetrated by a male family member. For example, the case of a 12-year-old girl from Cochabamba is the prime example of that statistic. In 2002, a judge granted her the right to terminate her pregnancy after she was raped by her stepfather, causing an outpour of controversy by those who began to question the exceptions in abortion laws.
The questions I have been asking many of those who rose up against the VAPPB Law in Imo State and quickly claimed that Governor Okorocha has made Imo an abortion State which none of them have been able to give me a clear answer are;
What would be your stand if as a woman you are a victim of rape either by armed robbers or rapists and you discovered that you have taken in, would you go ad register for antenatal?
What would be your decision if as a father, your 13 year old daughter is raped by a close family relative and she becomes pregnant would you go and start buying baby things?
What would be your reaction if your teenage daughter is sexually assaulted by armed robbers and she becomes pregnant, would you register her for antenatal and start making preparations for the new baby?
These are some of the ugly incidents none of us pray to befell any of us, but which we know have become daily occurrences in our societies today, how would we address such if it happens, and how has those it has been happening been addressing them. Or are we comfortable with playing the Ostrich, as if nothing like that happens?
Even many of those shouting the loudest over this issue would be the first to run to the doctors and do something drastic about such development if it befalls them or any of their wards. But now, it has become a politically correct thing to deny such opportunity to look at few of the emerging challenges we are facing as a society and come up with solutions to it. The Imo State VAPPB may not be perfect, but it is a right step in trying to curb what if left on its own would become a monster soonest.
I am not unaware of the stand of the Catholic Church on such issues. But I also know that most of the propositions from the Church are not workable within our social milieu and if we take cognizance of available health facilities. For example, the Catholic Church is vehemently against any form of termination of pregnancy, and not only them, other religious organizations tow similar lines, and I respect their views. But let’s take a look at what their takes are.
According to the Catholic Catechism: “Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.” (no. 2356) Note that rape is “an intrinsically evil act,” meaning that it is evil at its very root, nothing justifies it, and it is objectively a mortal sin.
In accord with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (no. 36), the care for the rape victim has four aspects: First, she must receive spiritual and psychological support and counseling to help her deal with the trauma of the attack. Such support and counseling will probably continue for some time after the immediate period.Second, health care providers need to cooperate with law enforcement officials, gathering evidence that can be used in the prosecution of the rapist.Third, the victim needs treatment for bruises, cuts, or other injuries.Finally, health care providers must provide treatment to prevent the possible contraction of venereal disease and pregnancy.
The Directives state, “A woman who has been raped may defend herself against a conception resulting from sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medication that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.”(no. 36)
The woman who is a victim of rape has the moral right to prevent the pregnancy for the following reasons: First, the rapist (including his sperm) is an unjust aggressor who has violated the woman’s dignity. Second, rape is an act of force and violence, unlike the conjugal love in marriage whereby both spouses give freely of themselves in an act of unitive and procreative love. Third, the woman is not responsible for the action, and thereby has the right to prevent the pregnancy. In preventing pregnancy, most rape treatment protocols recommend anti-fertility drugs to be administered within 72 hours and over a period of several days. These drugs, such as Ovral, inhibit ovulation. However, some contraceptives may also affect the endometrium of the uterus, causing the expulsion of a conceived ovum. This latter effect is problematical.
I highlighted some of the issues above to raise the question on their practicability in our society. Do we have the facilities go through the rigours the laws of the Church proposed? In the instance the ife of the mother is in danger, should we allow her to die so as to save the child who would be orphaned at birth, or do we save the life of the mother who may also be a mother to other children and lose the newborn baby? Some of these decisions are too complex to be left in the hands of the Church without care for the feelings of the family.
I read somewhere an example in Arizona United States where one Rev. Sister Margaret McBride, a senior administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, authorized a legal abortion to save the life of a 27-year-old mother of four who was 11 weeks pregnant and suffering from severe complications of pulmonary hypertension; she made that decision after consultation with the mother’s family, her doctors and the local ethics committee. Yet the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, immediately excommunicated Sister Margaret, saying, “The mother’s life cannot be preferred over the child’s.” Would it have been better to let a woman die and orphan her children instead?
This Law is not about legal abortions alone, we seem to have forgotten about the issue of domestic violence. Between the time this issue came to the fore two weeks ago and now, I could count about two young women who were beaten to death by their spouses. The issue of domestic violence seems to have become the order of the day in our societies today. Women are often expected to live with ‘certified’ monsters that may wake up from the wrong side of the bed one day and beat them into unconsciousness, yet we seem helpless with this seeming social epidemic. Any suggestion that a woman living under this kind of environment should give the man some space and save her life would be frowned upon by religious folks who will accuse you of trying to put asunder what God put together, until one of them would be identified in the mortuary. Is marriage not for the living?
Should we throw away the baby with the birth water in the name of politics, or take a real hard look at the challenges confronting us today as a people, and seek better ways to tackle our challenges. Interestingly, it is the less vocal poor who always stand to lose in such a situation. For example, some of the young girls who were forced out of their homes because they became pregnant ended up in baby factories are all from very poor backgrounds. But for the daughters of the very vocal rich, when they encounter such challenges are well taken care of, and efforts made to see that they do not even miss a session in their education.
There is a need to have a rethink and stop playing politics with the welfare of the people.