Abortion is a controversial topic in Nigeria. Abortion in Nigeria is governed by two laws that differ depending on geographical location. Northern Nigeria is governed by The Penal Code and southern Nigeria is governed by The Criminal Code. The only legal way to have an abortion in Nigeria is if having the child is going to put the mother’s life in danger. However, sex-selective abortion has long had acceptance in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s abortion laws make it one of the most restrictive countries regarding abortion. Nigeria’s criminal law system is divided between the northern and southern states of Nigeria.
The Criminal Code is currently enforced in southern states. The abortion laws of the Criminal Code are expressed within sections 228, 229, and 230. Section 228 states that any person providing a miscarriage to a woman is guilty of a felony and up to 14 years of imprisonment. Section 229 states that any woman obtaining a miscarriage is guilty of a felony and up to imprisonment for 7 years. Section 230 states that anyone supplying anything intended for a woman’s miscarriage is also guilty of a felony and up to 3 years of imprisonment.
The Penal Code operates in northern states, with abortion laws contained in sections 232, 233, and 234. The sections of the Penal Code parallel the Criminal Code, besides the exception for abortion with the purpose of saving the life of the mother. The Penal Code’s punishments include imprisonment, fine, or both. The offenses of these codes are punishable regardless of whether the miscarriage was successful. No provisions have been made to the Criminal Code making exceptions for the preservations of the mother’s life. However, the cases of Rex vs Edgar and Rex vs Bourne have made it generally accepted that abortion performed to preserve the mother’s life is not an appropriate transgression of the Criminal Code.
Since abortion is legally restricted in Nigeria with abortion being only legal to save the life of the pregnant person, many women resort to unsafe abortion methods, leading to abortion-related complications and increasing mortality and morbidity rates in the country. According to research done by the Guttmacher Institute, an estimated 456,000 unsafe abortions are done in Nigeria every year. In a joint study carried out by the Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians of Nigeria and Nigeria’s Ministry of Health, estimates of women who engage in unsafe abortion were put at about 20,000 each year. Research has revealed that only 40% of abortions are performed by physicians with improved health facilities while the remaining percentage are performed by non-physicians.