Rochas' abortion law should stay
The trenchant barracking in Imo State over the recently signed abortion law incorporates the hallmarks of many dictatorships and reminds one of Adolf Hitler's Germany, Josef Stalin's Russia and Chairman Mao's China. The state governor, Rochas Okorocha, with his abortion law, has, seemingly, disturbed the peace of Catholic faithful and other pro-foetus campaigners. It's not surprising; conservatives are given to bouts of visceral reactions over any and everything that challenges their worldview. In their enveloping hubris, they will do a Samson and pull down mortar on challengers.
The politician in the governor and his 'co-conspirators' in the state House of Assembly might eventually kowtow rather than cause offence. Already, the favoured Nigerian political propaganda of my-enemies-are-at-the-gate has been creeping into official communication. But the law should not be reversed because it has merits that cannot be invalidated by an Abrahamic ethos rooted in the Stone Age. Okorocha should maintain steadfastness in the face of underwhelming conservatives who reduce the complexity of human existence to the lessons of their Sunday School classes. Meanwhile, I find it curious that the most vociferous campaigners against the law are men.
It does say a lot, doesn't it?
There are a few Op-Eds supporting the law but most of them have argued for the law on the basis of rape and incest. Abortion, for them, should be permitted only in those circumstances. These pro-choice activists, with all due respect, are dancing round the main issue as research shows that women who procure abortion as a result of rape and incest are less than one per cent of the totality of those who request it. The elephant in the room is that most women have abortion because they simply do not want the developing foetus.
I can already hear conservatives screaming, 'Why have sex if you don't want a child?' Well, sex is primarily a physiological need and humans necessarily crave it; pregnancy is one of the possible outcomes. Besides, food makes us fat but we still eat, don't we? The punitive stance of yes-you-had-your-fun-now-you-must-accept-the-consequences is inconsiderate and patriarchal. It empties the burden of intimacies on women's heads; as if every sexual encounter is fun and, the woman took all of it.
The misconceptions around abortion need deconstruction. First is that women who seek abortion are promiscuous. Aside the subjectivity of the term 'promiscuous,' studies show many married women seek abortion, too. Second is that children are generally a blessing. Well, not in all cases especially if we go by Nigeria's 52,000 annual incidence of maternal mortality. Third, all children come from God and deserve to be born. Not at all children are a biological reaction; God does not make them, regardless of what miracle preachers say. Children are born because people have sex. And to those who make the banal argument of if-your-parents-did-not-give-birth-to-you-would-you-be-here, I ask in return, 'Since your birth, what good have you done the planet?'
One thing conservatives should note is this: most women would rather avoid abortion altogether. I once attended a conference where a doctor who runs an abortion clinic read from the logbook her patrons filled after the process. It was agonising to listen. The women, one could tell, suffered guilty consciences. If the conservatives add to this the economics of abortion, they will get a picture of what the decision is really like for women who have to procure it. Others who trump up the argument of infanticide need to understand that matters of sex have many grey areas and there cannot be an umbrella definition of virtue to cover everyone sufficiently.
Issues around abortion are tense everywhere, even in the so-called liberal societies. Nevertheless, countries legalise the practice for pragmatic purposes as women who want an abortion will procure it regardless of risk to their health and, even, life. For all it's worth, such women deserve support, legal and social.
Abortion legalisation does not mean women would start trooping to hospitals through the front door. Abortion is hugely stigmatising in many societies and the impact of this law will only be marginal for a while. The poor and working-class women will most likely continue patronising quacks. It will take time before society fully reconciles itself to certain realities.
Those who use religious precepts to counter arguments on abortion should understand that not all women are religious; some of us don't want our choices decided by the injunctions in someone else's religion. I am a non-theist; there is no rationale why my choices should be regulated by Roman Catholic principles. There are even multiple studies that show that on issues like contraceptives, Catholics are already ahead of the Vatican dictates, so why not let us be realistic?
The culturalist position on the issue is not more tenable either. Culture is not immutable; otherwise Nigerians would still be killing twins. And let's not get started on the myth of superior African values. Cultural values are relative and Africans have no more mores that trump other places in the world where abortion is legalised. That we are more pretentious or too coy to deal with certain subjects is not superiority.
Let's note: Abortion is never compulsory, either for the doctor or the woman involved. It is an alternative for those who exhaust their options. Nobody should therefore use their influence on political institutions to impose their position on everyone (otherwise, why resist Boko Haram?) That Imo State is Catholic-dominated does not make it a religious state. Okorocha should allow this law as a test of strength and virtues of those who preach love and tolerance on Sunday but live otherwise during the week.
Finally, I want to preempt those who will ask if I have any value for life at all. The answer is yes, I do. But I am also a realist so like Bill Clinton, I believe abortion should be safe, legal and rare. What our conservatives should debate is 'rare,' not total suppression. It is delusional to assume people will always want every child when we know that mistakes do happen; people miscalculate. Nature itself is inconsistent and so folks find themselves with children they do not want.
When that happens, every woman should be left to consult her conscience and arrive at her own decision. Not everyone woman will choose an abortion anyway. The Igbo have a saying, 'Egbe belu, ugo belu.' It roughly translates as live and let live. I read that in Chinua Achebe's book.