The Lagos State Government has developed a policy document on safe abortion towards guiding healthcare professionals to provide safe and lawful abortion services in the state.
Dr Olusegun Ogboye, Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, said this at a stakeholders meeting to launch the document on Tuesday in Lagos.
Ogboye said this in a statement by Tunbosun Ogunbanwo, Director, Public Affairs in the state’s health ministry.
According to him, the 40 page policy document, titled “Lagos State Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications” sets out guidelines for safe termination of pregnancy within the ambit of the criminal law of Lagos State.
Ogboye noted that the document was to provide evidence-based data and information for health workers in public and private sectors with requisite skills to provide safe termination of pregnancy to reduce preventable deaths.
He said that while therapeutic abortion was permissible under the state’s law, absence of clear guidelines had stalled the effective implementation at appropriate levels of care resulting in preventable deaths.
“In 2011, the Lagos State House of Assembly updated the criminal code, providing for abortion to save the life and protect the physical health of the woman.
“While physical health is covered under the Lagos legal framework, services conforming to the law have not been available in Lagos State health sector.
“This document provides information on relevant laws applicable in Lagos State, while providing standards and best practices with regards to legal indications, pre and post procedure care, methods and monitoring.
“I must state here that this document has undergone wide consultation with relevant technical stakeholders within the legal and health service context in the state,” he said.
Ogboye said that the process to develop the guidelines started in 2018 with the ‘Safe Engage Project’ led by the ministry and hosted by the Society for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Nigeria (SOGON), with support from Population Reference Bureau (PRB).
He added that stakeholders in the state health sector worked with key opinion leaders in Lagos and the southwest region to develop a tailored advocacy tool for terminations within the legal context.
According to him, the advocacy messages on the Safe Engage project focused on two immediate outcome.
He noted that the outcome include ensuring that safe abortion services were available within legal indications in Lagos and domesticating the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, supporting women to terminate a pregnancy caused by rape or incest.
“To guide the implementation, one of the follow up recommendations of the project was the adaptation of the National Standards and Guidelines for Safe Termination of Pregnancy within Legal Indications within the Lagos State context.
“The Federal Ministry of Health had developed and disseminated the national guidelines on safe termination of pregnancy which highlights the compendium of conditions and circumstances under which termination of pregnancy could be instituted.
“The guideline was intended to build the capacity of health professionals to identify pregnancies for which legal termination could be instituted.
“Marie Stopes International in Nigeria in collaboration with the Population Reference Bureau proposed to support the state government to adapt the document,” he said.
Ogboye said that the process for national guidelines adaptation included technical meetings to discuss sections of the law supporting safe abortion and conditions permitted within the legal framework to save the lives and the physical health of mothers.
He added that it also include validation meeting with the broader stakeholders to review the document.
“We hope this dissemination today will help guide health providers to provide this service within the ambit of the law,” Ogboye said.
Also, Mr Emmanuel Ajah, Country Director, Marie Stopes International Organisation Nigeria (MSION), said that the development and dissemination of the policy document showed Lagos leading state-level intervention to stem the tide of unsafe abortion and give women and girls improved health outcomes.
Ajah said that abortion in Nigeria was not illegal but restrictive, noting that many health providers were unaware of the legal indications for safe termination of pregnancy.
He stressed that it was important for healthcare providers to make critical decisions based on sound medical judgment and not on religion, culture, or other biases, when a woman’s life is in danger, as prescribed in Nigeria laws.
Ajah added that the policy was a demonstration of the commitment of the state to improve maternal health, especially mitigating the impact of unsafe abortion practices in the state.
Similarly, Prof. Innocent Ujah, former President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), said the guidelines would preserve the lives of pregnant women whose physical or mental health would be compromised with the continuation of their pregnancies.
Also, Prof. Ayodele Atsenuwa at the Law Department, University of Lagos, and also a consultant on the document development, said that the Lagos State Criminal law of 2011 only prohibits unlawful abortion.
Atsenuwa noted that the document clarifies what lawful termination of pregnancy means in the context of the law, adding that education of law enforcement officers was critical with regards to understanding the context of the law.