Sierra Leone Rights group urge president to allow safe abortions

Human Rights groups urge Sierra Leone president Ernest Bai Koroma to sign a bill into law that will legalise abortion in the country.

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Human Rights groups are appealing to the Sierra Leone president, Ernest Bai Koroma, to sign a bill into law that will legalise abortion in the country.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Sierra Leonean rights groups sent a letter to Koroma asking him to sign the bill which would be a “crucial step” toward protecting women and girls’ right to health in Sierra Leone.

The letter noted Koroma addressed Parliament on the crisis of maternal mortality in Sierra Leone, stating the current statistics and the need for “greater urgency to address this tragedy.”

World Health Organization data shows the 2015 maternal mortality ratio in Sierra Leone is 1,360 deaths per 100,000 live births, one of the highest in the world.

Unsafe abortions — often resulting from restrictive laws and poor access to sexual and reproductive health services, information, and education — is one of the main factors contributing to maternal deaths in Sierra Leone.

The bill that Parliament passed in 2015 would permit access to abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, after which it is permitted until week 24 only in cases of rape, incest, or health risk to the fetus or the woman or girl. It also allows for girls under the age of 18 access to abortion with the permission of a guardian.

The existing Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 criminalizes abortion, possibly except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.

In a statement, the groups wrote that signing the bill into law has the potential to improve the lives of Sierra Leonean women, and prevent thousands of needless deaths, injuries, and disabilities.

“Even women and girls who might qualify for a legal abortion may not be able to find a health care provider who will provide one,” said Sarah Taylor, women’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch.

“Guaranteeing women access to safe and legal abortions will go a long way toward fulfilling their right to health, and will help stop preventable deaths.”

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