Journalists in the Network of Reproductive Health Journalists of Nigeria (NRHJN), task Governor Babajide Sanwoolu to educate Lagosians on the suspended Pregnancy Termination Guidelines which are meant for healthcare providers, and correct the erroneous belief that it is to encourage abortion.
The group wants the Governor to empower the Ministry of Health to take up the challenge and properly educate Lagosians on why the documented Guidelines are tools to ensure all medical personnel works within legal limits in terminating any pregnancy.
The media advocates for reproductive health and rights are kicking against the suspicion in some quarters that the document, State Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indication, which was launched last June but suspended following a protest from the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos promotes illegal abortion in the State.
At the document’s launch, Country Director, Mariestopes International Organisation, Nigeria, (MSION), Emmanuel Ajah a key partner, underscores the main reason Lagos State is domesticating a similar National Guidelines launched in 2017.
According to Ujah, “abortion in Nigeria is not illegal but restrictive; however, a significant number of healthcare providers are unaware of the legal indication for safe termination of pregnancy”.
He noted, “It is important that healthcare providers have the responsibility to determine when the life of a woman is in danger and as prescribed in the Laws, need to have the right understanding and make those critical decisions based on sound medical judgment and not religion, culture or other biases”.
Announcing the suspension of the Guidelines on July 7, Commissioner for Health, Professor Abayomi noted, “Among the several factors that contribute to maternal mortality are illegal abortions and high-risk pregnancies leading to unresolvable complications rank high”.
The Commissioner also pointed out that the State continues to seek different methods to eliminate illegal abortions “and ensure that a mother does not die at childbirth, thereby disrupting an entire family unit”
He said the State in this regard finds it imperative “in keeping with existing National and State Laws and Policies if there are indeed justifications and medical reasons to offer abortion to a woman whose life is threatened by a pregnancy”
The Network in a statement signed by both its President, Yinka Shokunbi, and National Secretary, Hajia Sekinah Lawal, are asking Lagos Government to immediately take steps to explain the workings of the suspended Guidelines which if followed by medical providers, will help save the lives of women when they present with difficult pregnancy conditions.
The Network describes the document as “a medical tool for service providers in Lagos State and not non-professionals who have no business in medical care and treatment of pregnant women”.
The Guidelines the group pointed out, put together, give proper steps to medical providers, “to recognize a pregnancy needing medical intervention for termination thus saving lives of women at the risk of dying due to wrong decisions”.
The media advocates recalled that in 2019, the State Ministry of Health launched the Safe Engage Initiative.
The initiative was borne out of concerns about the rising deaths of pregnant women with co-morbidity health challenges which could have been avoided in safe medical termination of such pregnancies.
“Oftentimes, these women within ages of 20-45, get pregnant and with poor management of the underlying health issues may fall, victims of poor outcomes, when pregnancy threatens their lives”, notes the group.
“The goal of the document is to serve as a tool for the provision of Safe Termination of Pregnancy within the legal framework in circumstances whereby the continuation of such pregnancy threatens the life or physical and/or mental health of the woman thereby contributing to the reduction of maternal morbidity and mortality in Lagos State, and by extension, in Nigeria at large”.
According to the group, “the policy document in question, clearly explains its intention in its executive summary as follows:
“Subsequently, this Guideline for Lagos State is intended to standardize practice and build capacity of medical professionals in public and private facilities to identify pregnancies for which the law is intended so that ethical and safe management can be instituted.
” The guideline provides information on subsisting Nigerian Law on termination of Pregnancy, Lagos State revised Law 2011, a compendium of medical conditions and circumstances where the continuation of Pregnancy endangers the woman’s life and describes the step-by-step options for ethical and safe medical management.
“It is envisaged that the enunciation, deployment, and the use of his guideline will preserve the life of pregnant women from dying or whose physical or mental health would be compromised with the continuation of their pregnancies”.
The Reproductive Health Journalists describes the introduction of the State Guidelines which is a domestication of the 2018 National Guideline, as “timely, concise and will appropriately put pay to so many questions often asked on whether the Nigerian government permits abortion as a means of family planning as many tend to believe”.
They urged every individual Nigerian of Reproductive age, to be intentional and responsible with their sexual and reproductive health and lifestyle irrespective of faith or belief.
Members of the Network task Governor Sanwoolu to ensure the document does not become moribund or extinct from its suspension.
They ask Governor Sanwoolu to immediately direct the Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi to initiate strategies and plans to re-train and equip the health care providers in the public and private sectors with the relevant skills and resources to carry out their roles as contained in the Guidelines.