On October 20, after a long and grueling parliamentary session, Benin became the first West African country to legally provide access to safe abortion. Before, abortion was only permitted if the pregnancy endangered the life of the pregnant woman, was the result of rape, or was conceived in an incestuous relationship.
Now that the majority of the country’s lawmakers have voted to decriminalize abortion, women will be allowed to have an abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if it will cause moral or financial distress, or negatively impact their education or careers.
“In short, this law puts the power of having an abortion on the person who is pregnant,” explained Lawyer Dele Ahouhou.
Women’s rights activists, like 21-year-old Tiwa Tope, celebrated the decision, saying, “We don’t want a doctor to determine if an individual should get an abortion, or for anyone who isn’t pregnant to dictate what people should or shouldn’t do.”
According to Amnesty International, an estimated one in four pregnancies end in abortion every year, and restricting access to safe abortion only creates a dangerous environment for women and girls, who will continue to find ways to abort an unwanted pregnancy.
This change is a win for women in Benin, but also for women in nearby countries where abortion is still illegal. “This isn’t ideal, but this is an option many are willing to explore. And in the coming months, we’ll see women doing this,” says Ahounou. “Why? Because they can’t walk into a hospital in their home countries for an abortion. Therefore, coming to Benin would be the next step.”