By: R. Joyclyn Wea

Monrovia-Feb-19-TNR:38,779 induced abortions took place in Liberia in 2021, according to a 2023 report released by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), the Africa Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), and Guttmacher.

This translates to an induced abortion rate of 30.7 per 1,000 women of reproductive age and an induced abortion ratio of 229 abortions per 1,000 live births.
This alarming data has prompted an important conversation about the need for affordable and easily accessible sexual and reproductive health services in Liberia, as well as safe abortion practices, to prevent women and girls from dying from unsafe abortion care. Some people, especially religious and traditional leaders, believe that these practices are contrary to biblical teachings and African tradition.

The public health law is presently being reviewed by the Liberian Senate, with a particular emphasis on the legality of safe abortion. Different sectors, including religious leaders, health professionals, and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), have responded to this legislative measure in different ways. The interplay of reproductive rights, moral issues, and women’s and girls’ health and well-being is the main topic of discussion.

“Information and how it shifts public perceptions and attitudes so we feel that if we are working with you to address this particular topic, it is very important, and the accuracy that it provides enables you to report from a space of empathy and also putting women right center approach and not at your own bias that you come with,” Noami Tulay-Solanke, member of the advocacy working group leading the campaign on the passage of the new public health law.

Women’s autonomy, equality, and health are all dependent on the recognition of reproductive rights, which is why CSOs and health professionals support them. They contend that to stop hazardous, covert operations that jeopardize women’s lives and disproportionately affect underprivileged populations, access to safe and legal abortions is crucial. The proposed amendment respects women’s rights to safe abortion, contraception, and childbirth by allowing abortion under specific circumstances, such as when the mother’s health is at risk due to the pregnancy or in cases of rape or incest. These conditions are in line with the principles of the Maputo Protocol.

The CSO advocacy working group is forming coalitions and networking to get the support of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” people to prevent women and young girls from losing their lives to this threat, in addition to pressuring the national government to take this new public health law under consideration for passage. The organization recently hosted a four-day capacity-building workshop for journalists in this area to encourage them to report about SRHR and/or abortion services using greater evidence.

The goal of the program, according to Naomi Tulay, Executive Director of Community Health Initiative, is to improve moral and values-based behavior within the media organization, promoting a responsible and constructive influence on public opinion about journalism and the reporting of topics on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women.

“We thought it wise that over the years in as much as we are advocating for a safe space as it relates to sexual reproductive health and rights, particularly women’s rights to their body anatomy we needed to partner with the media,” Madam said.

She maintained that “The media landscape is something that cannot be overemphasized and all must work together to unpack how stigmatizing attitudes toward abortion in the media cause harm to women and girls and how can we collectively identify a way forward to promote access to SRHR services specifically around safe abolition care in Liberia.

She feels that if the media value is aligned with the advocacy around safe abolition, it will encourage you to report earlier around bias and inaccurate and responsible reporting as it relates to value clarification and attitude transformation around safe and legal abolition in Liberia.

There’s ongoing debate on amending the public health law to legalize safe abortion in Liberia is a crucial step toward recognizing and upholding women’s reproductive rights. It represents a commitment to protecting women’s health, ensuring equality, and supporting the autonomy of women to make informed choices about their reproductive futures.

This situation is not unique to Liberia. There is a global challenge of unsafe abortions that continue to pose significant risks to the lives and health of women and girls. This issue has sparked a vital discussion on the need for safe abortion practices worldwide, with Liberia at the forefront of this conversation.

“We believe that women should have direction, over their bodies because they are the ones going through the situation and we are of the strong conviction that the media is going to play a huge part because if the media are aware of the issue, they can reach the message to thousands of people across the country and we can be able to shift the mindset of the people on the SRHR issues,” Ms. Leila Precious Dolo, Executive Director of “Help and Mother and Newborn Initiative.”

Dolo is strong on ensuring that women and girls can have access to the care they deserve specifically during pregnancy.

“We hope that all of us can be able to have a safe conversation, share our beliefs, unlearn, learn and unlearn, relearn things that we already know, and then, we can all be able to be an advocate for SRHR particularly passing the new public health law,” she added.  

The World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted in its 2020 report that a large number of induced abortions occur globally each year, noting alarmingly that 61 percent of all unintended pregnancies result in death. This stark statistic underscores the critical importance of addressing the issue of unsafe abortions and the urgent need for legal frameworks that protect women’s health and rights. 

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