President Julius Maada Bio’s announcement during the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights– that his government intends to unanimously back a bill on risk-free motherhood –is an enormous step forward in guaranteeing the health, the safety and the dignity of millions of girls and women of reproductive age in Sierra Leone, a country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
Sierra Leone joins other African nations who are making enormous progress in protecting the rights of women and girls to access the essential reproductive healthcare they need. Like many African countries, Sierra Leone’s current abortion law, which dates to 1861, bans access to abortion care unless the woman’s life is at risk.
The proposed legislation would guarantee the health and dignity of all girls and women of childbearing age in the country. With the enactment of this legislation, Sierra Leone will join the nearly 60 other countries worldwide that have liberalized their abortion laws in the past 25 years. A similar law was adopted by the country’s Parliament in 2015, but at that time, the Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma refused to approve it due to pressure from religious groups.
The Maputo Protocol to Africa’s Human rights commitment requires all States to take all appropriate measures to provide adequate, affordable and accessible health services, including information, education and communication programmes to women especially those in rural areas and to protect the reproductive rights of women by authorizing medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the woman or the life of the woman or the foetus.
This is a critical step for Sierra Leone towards fulfilling its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to guarantee all persons the right to be free from discrimination. The Center for Reproductive Rights urges the Government of President Julius Maada Bio to pass and fully implement this long-overdue law that will impact the health and well-being of so many.
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