Nigeria: Abortion Law
Abortion is permitted to save the life of the woman, to preserve physical health, and to preserve mental health.
Nigeria has two abortion laws: one for the northern states and one for the southern states. Both laws specifically allow abortions to be performed to save the life of the woman. In addition, in the southern states, the holding of Rex v. Bourne is applied, which allows abortions to be performed for physical and mental health reasons.
Two physicians are required to certify that the pregnancy poses a serious threat to the life of the woman.
Abortion in Nigeria is governed by two different laws. In the predominantly Muslim states of Northern Nigeria, which contain about half the population of the country, the Penal Code, Law No. 18 of 1959, is in effect. In the southern part of the country, which is largely Christian in religion, the Criminal Code of 1916 is in effect. While both Codes generally prohibit the performance of abortions, differences in the wording of the Codes, as well as in their interpretation, that have resulted in two slightly different treatments of the offence of abortion.
Under the Penal Code an abortion may be legally performed only to save the life of the pregnant woman. Except for this purpose, a person who voluntarily causes a woman with child to miscarry is subject to up to fourteen years’ imprisonment and/or payment of a fine. A woman who causes her own miscarriage is subject to the same penalty. Harsher penalties are applied if the woman dies as a result of the miscarriage.
Section 297 provides that “a person is not criminally responsible for performing in good faith and with reasonable care and skill a surgical operation...upon an unborn child for the preservation of the mother’s life if the performance of the operation is reasonable, having regard to the patient’s state at the time and all the circumstances of the case”. Any person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman, unlawfully administers to her any noxious thing or uses any other means is subject to fourteen years’ imprisonment. A woman who undertakes the same act with respect to herself or consents to it is subject to seven years’ imprisonment. Any person who supplies any thing knowing that it is intended to be unlawfully used to procure a miscarriage is subject to three years’ imprisonment.
Misoprostol is registered and widely available as cytotec.
Unsafe abortion is one of the most significant and preventable causes of maternal death and injury in Nigeria. Abortion is illegal except to save the life of the woman, and procedures are often inaccessible even for women who meet these requirements, forcing women to seek out clandestine procedures.