In a bid to guide healthcare providers in Lagos State to provide SAFE and LAWFUL abortion services within the ambit of the law, the Lagos State Government has developed a policy document on safe termination of pregnancy.
The 40-page policy document tagged: “Lagos State Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications”, sets out guidelines for safe termination of pregnancy within the ambit of the criminal law of Lagos State.
Launching the document at a stakeholders’ engagement, the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Dr. Olusegun Ogboye, noted that the production of the policy document was borne out of the need to provide evidence-based data and information for health workers, who have the requisite skills and training in public and private sectors, to provide safe terminations and reduce preventable deaths.
Ogboye explained that while therapeutic termination of pregnancy is permissible under the law in Lagos State, the absence of clear guidelines has stalled the effective implementation at appropriate levels of care resulting in preventable deaths.
He averred that the process to develop the guidelines commenced in 2018 with the Safe Engage project, led by the Lagos Ministry of Health and hosted by the Society for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Nigeria (SOGON), with support from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB).
The Permanent Secretary stated that stakeholders in the health sector worked with key opinion leaders in Lagos and the Southwest region to develop a tailored advocacy tool for terminations within the legal context, noting that the advocacy messages on the Safe Engage project focused on two immediate outcomes – ensuring that safe abortion services were available within legal indications in Lagos and domesticating the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, supporting women to terminate a pregnancy caused by rape or incest.
He revealed that the process for National guidelines adaptation included technical meetings to discuss sections of the law supporting safe abortion and conditions permitted within the legal framework to save the lives and physical health of mothers as well as validation meetings with the broader stakeholders to review the document.
“All that handwork has culminated in today’s dissemination of the guidelines. We hope this dissemination today will help guide health providers to provide this service within the ambit of the law”, Ogboye stated.
Earlier in his remarks, the Country Director of a leading Reproductive Health Organisation, Marie Stopes International Organisation Nigeria (MSION), Mr. Emmanuel Ajah, stated that the development and dissemination of the policy document have once again proven that Lagos is leading the way for State-level intervention to stem the tide of unsafe abortion in order to give women and girls improved health outcomes.
While noting that abortion in Nigeria is not illegal but restrictive, Ajah said significant numbers of health providers are unaware of the legal indications for safe termination of pregnancy.
He posited that healthcare providers have the responsibility to determine when the life of the woman is in danger as prescribed in Nigeria’s laws, just as they need to have the right understanding and make those critical decisions based on sound medical judgment, irrespective of religion, culture or other biases.
The Vice-Chancellor, University of Medical Sciences, Otukpo, Prof. Innocent Ujah, one of the Consultants that developed the document, averred that the enunciation, deployment and use of the guidelines will preserve the lives of pregnant women and those whose physical or mental health could be compromised with the continuation of their pregnancies.
He explained that the guidelines provide information on subsisting Nigeria Law on termination of pregnancy, Lagos State revised law 2011, a compendium of medical conditions and circumstances where the continuation of pregnancy endangers the women’s life. The document provides the step-by-step options for ethical and safe medical management.
Speaking in the same vein, Prof. Ayodele Atsenuwa, a Professor of Law at the University of Lagos and also a Consultant on the document development explained that the Lagos State Criminal Law of 2011 only prohibits unlawful abortion.
She noted that the document clarifies and explains what lawful termination of pregnancy means in the context of the law, adding that the education of law enforcement officers is important with regard to the interpretation of the law.