Sixteen thousand one hundred and eighty-two girls and young women caused abortion in 2011 as against 10,785 in 2010 and 8,717 in 2009, a report by the Ministry of Health has indicated.
According to the Adolescent Health and Development Programmes 2011 Report of the ministry, 216 cases of abortion involving girls aged 10 to 14 were recorded in 2009; 331 cases in 2010 and 582 in 2011.
In the case of girls 15 to 19 years of age, 5,525 abortion cases were recorded in 2009; 6,679 in 2010 and 7,800 in 2011. The report further indicated that for young women aged 20 to 24, 7,800 abortion cases were recorded in 2011; 6,679 in 2010 and 5,525 in 2009.
Speaking to the Daily Graphic in Accra, the Deputy Director of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) in charge of Reproductive and Child Health, Dr Patrick Aboagye, said the number of abortion cases, seemed to have increased because the various health facilities now focused more on reproductive health and reported more abortion cases.
He said abortion cases were on the increase, particularly in the urban areas and among the rich and educated, because “people do not want pregnancy to hamper their progress”.
Concerns have been raised over the reported cases of unsafe abortion in the country, which sometimes results in the death of the victims. But Dr Aboagye noted that those cases were rather going down, as people now relied on medicines, including Cytotec, to prevent the complications that arose from the use of unconventional methods to abort pregnancies. Cytotec, generally known as Misoprostol, is a drug registered for use to prevent gastric ulcers but it can also be used to induce childbirth.
According to experts, although the drug could be used to terminate pregnancy, there could be dire consequences for the user if the right dosage is not used – in some cases infertility or even death. Even though Cytotec is a class A drug, meaning it cannot be bought without prescription, it is one of the most abused drugs in the country. Out of the 2,500 abortion cases recorded annually at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, 875 involved people who used Cytotec.
According to Dr Aboagye, as a result of ignorance, many women in Ghana did not know their legal rights to safe abortion.
“Many of the people who engage in unsafe abortion actually qualify for legal abortion but because they are ignorant, they end up endangering their lives,” he said.
Section 58 of the Criminal Code of 1960 makes abortion a criminal offence in Ghana. However, the law gives quite liberal grounds on which legal abortion may be permitted, but unsafe abortion remains a major cause of maternal morbidity and mortality in Ghana.
Statistics from the GHS indicate that while unsafe abortion is the second leading cause of maternal mortality in Ghana, accounting for 15 per cent of maternal deaths, it also accounts for 25 to 30 per cent of maternal deaths in leading teaching hospitals in the country, a situation which impedes the country’s efforts at achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 primarily aimed at reducing maternal mortality by 75 per cent by 2015.
For many young women who had unsafe abortion at 17, the lack of sex education for young people was a contributory factor to unsafe abortion. For the Moderator of the Global Evangelical Church (GEC), Rt Rev Dr Edem Tettey, lack of sex education is a worrying sign that parents are neglecting their responsibilities to their children in the name of economic gain. He admitted that the church had a crucial role to play in ensuring that parenting was put on the right footing in order not to jeopardise the future of today’s young people.
Technically, abortion is illegal in the country, but there are three broad and flexible exceptions under which women can demand legal termination.They are:
If a woman gets pregnant as a result of rape, incest or reduced mental ability; if the pregnancy poses a risk to her physical or mental health, and if the unborn child may suffer an abnormality or disease.
In Ghana, society is divided over the subject – those who defend a woman’s right to end a pregnancy and those who believe the rights of an unborn child supersedes the mother’s.
It is estimated that as many as two-thirds of all terminated pregnancies in Ghana are unsafe and a large number of women die as a result.
Although Ghana’s abortion law is considered relatively liberal, the criminalisation of abortion, coupled with traditional values, social perceptions and religious teachings, has created a situation where quacks and charlatans carry out abortion in clandestine and dangerous ways. Critics say the current law on abortion makes enforceability difficult and leaves room for untrained health personnel to engage in dangerous abortion procedures, for which reason there is the need for the law to be reformed.
But Nana Oye Lithur, a human rights activist, said Ghana’s laws and policy framework were liberal enough, explaining that although there was no legislative instrument on comprehensive abortion, the GHS had adopted guidelines and protocols which were enough for comprehensive abortion care in Ghana. Nana Lithur, who is also the Executive Director of the Human Right Advocacy Centre, attributed the increasing rate of abortion to the fact that young people were sexually active but did not practise safe sex.
Additionally, she said Ghana had a peculiar problem in that family planning rate was low. As a solution, she called for safe sex education for young people and the prosecution of perpetrators of rape and defilement.
According to critics, over the years, Ghana’s reproductive health policy on the reduction of unsafe abortion only dwelt on the promotion of family planning, contraception and post-abortion care, not the provision of safe abortion within the confines of the law, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
However, the termination of pregnancy ‘to save the mother’s life, in cases of serious medical conditions, including hypertensive disorders, renal failure, as well as obstetric emergencies such as acute haemorrhage in pregnancy, has been available in virtually all public and private hospitals in Ghana.