In African nations where abortion is illegal, tens of thousands of women are forced to undergo back-street abortions that often lead to severe injury or death. Although statistics are difficult to gather because of the government and media’s hesitance to address the problem, it is estimated that deaths resulting from illegal abortions are twice as high in Africa than in developed countries. At least 20,000 deaths occur in Africa every year, the majority in Nigeria.
A report by the Senegalese government found that 8,000 women had illegal abortions in 1995. According to Babacar Mane, a statistician at the Dentec Hospital in Dakar, the figures may in fact be much higher due to women concealing the fact that they had an illegal abortion.
Asbef, a family planning organization in Grand Yoff, Senegal, reports that education programs that focus on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases have not reduced the number of illegal abortions. Social worker Hawa Talla says the “biggest problem remains people who still believe that sex should not be discussed with young people and pupils. We find ourselves in a very conservative society.”
Only South Africa, Tunisia and Cape Verde have fully legalized abortions, according to a recent report by the Center for Population Studies. A total of 26 other nations only permit abortion if a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother and another 23 allow abortions the mother’s mental or physical health is in danger. Other nations, such as Senegal, require three doctors to certify the danger to a pregnant woman’s health in order to allow an abortion. Although legislation is currently tabled in the Senegalese parliament to allow abortions in the case of rape or incest, the nation’s powerful Muslim leaders oppose it.