In this interview, our staff speaks with Daniel Adams, a young environmentalist from Rivers State, Nigeria, to get his view on why the government should make abortion accessible to young people amidst the Corona virus pandemic and how this can improve young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Tell us about yourself
I am Daniel Adams from Rivers State, Nigeria. I am a youth and like to live life as best as I can. I consider myself to be a liberal and open-minded fellow because I see this, as the best approach to life in this new age and dispensation. I am trained as an environmentalist and with experience in resource management. However, I currently work around social development in the context of creating a better world for everyone, especially people who are marginalised and vulnerable in the society.
Can you explain what you mean by ‘marginalised people in society’?
Oh yes, when I speak of marginalised groups, I am referring to the poorest of the poor in the society, ethnic minorities, people discriminated against because of their religion, location, social or economic status, sexual orientation, age or gender.
What do you understand by abortion?
I wondered what abortions meant when I was drawn to it for the first time as a child. Whenever I stumbled on adults talking about it then, all I could gather was “abortion was not right”. However, I understood it to be the termination of pregnancy.
How did your society receive the topic of abortion when you were growing up?
I grew up in a typical Nigerian society; guided by socio-cultural beliefs and religion. I grew up with the understanding that both religion and socio-cultural beliefs do not support abortions. Even as I grew into a teenager, I could not boldly ask my parents and guardians questions about abortions. However, in recent times, it is no more a secret topic. People talked about it more often and sometimes, I overhear young girls discussing methods (which I now understand to be unsafe) they used to end their pregnancies.
For many people, abortion is still a shameful, immoral, criminal and sinful act. Yet, it seems to be quite common among many young girls today.
Regardless, people who procured abortion or those who provided abortion services were often stigmatised in the society.
How did you transition to being pro-abortion/pro-choice?
I have met people who chose to have abortions, as I have also met those who were forced to go through with a pregnancy. A lot of those who had to carry their pregnancies to term did so because they could not access safe abortions due to legal restrictions. Some of them did not want the stigma associated with having an abortion, and for others it was as a result of misinformation about abortion.
Some of these people are relatives, friends and acquaintances and some are people I have heard of.
I observed that the girls who were not ready to become mothers but had no other option regarding their pregnancies, felt bad about their situation. I watched as most of them struggled to achieve their set goals, they struggled with the psychological stress of unplanned parenthood and the need for personal development. Some were forced into marrying people that they did not choose for themselves, just because they got pregnant regardless of the situation around the pregnancy!
In comparison, it was quite the opposite for many of the girls who were able to procure abortions then. Most of them have been able to continue in the pursuit of their set goals before marriage and before deciding to have children. Apart from abortion-related stigma, many of them got to live their lives normally, and as I also observed, with time and with the evident successes they made, the stigma from society faded away.
This begged me to think rationally on the subject and I came to understand that abortions may not be as bad as society may have painted them to be after all. So, I decided to support access to abortion.
Talk about your advocacy to make abortion safe for women
My advocacy, is hinged on reforming the restrictive laws on abortion in Nigeria and ensuring that abortion services are safe and without complications. The success of the former somehow determines the success of the later.
As a social worker, I usually collect, collate and analyse data to serve as evidence that women and young girls should have accessible, safe and available abortion services. Results from my data findings are usually transformed to advocacy tools and messages to drive policy change and for major stakeholders.
What problems would you say exist in making abortion accessible in Nigeria?
The legislature against abortion stems from prevalent socio-cultural and religious beliefs in Nigeria in the senses that the legislature makes restrictive laws on abortion which affects both people who procure abortions and people who provide any form of abortion service. The fear of the law makes abortion procurement and provision a clandestine practice and as a result, poor standard abortion (unsafe) services are provided because service providers cannot get standard facilities and for the most of it, people who are in need of abortion resort to self-help which involves harmful methods of pregnancy termination by themselves. This results in deaths and/or other complications. The records of deaths and/or other complications from abortions further tightens the belt of the legislature on the restrictive laws.
Are there solutions that can be adopted?
Yes. That is why we advocate to policy influencers and sensitise the society for abortion to be considered as what it is: a health option and a rights-based subject. With this understanding, there should be no restrictive laws around it and without the restrictive laws, abortion service providers will have access to facilities of required health standards and abortion services will be safer.
Also, women and young girls will not have to resort to harmful pregnancy termination methods and they will be able to go to service provision centres. Women and girls will also have access to modern methods of contraception and with proper information and pre-counselling, be able to self-administer.
Deaths and/or complications from abortions will be reduced and there would be a general advancement in the health sector in Nigeria.
What has been your highlight in abortion advocacy?
So far, my highlight comes from the finding of my data studies. A common finding is that many members of the society (both men and women) are in support of creating access to safe abortion procurement because they understand the implications of unsafe abortion. This gives me hope that with more public sensitisation and advocacy, there will be a turn in the current situation of abortion in Nigeria.