Safe abortion, permitted to some extent in most countries around the world, remains restrictive in the majority of these countries. In Benin, abortion services are permitted only when the pregnancy affects the health of the woman, in the case of fetal malformation or when the pregnancy occurs as a result of rape or incest. Outside of these conditions, voluntary interruption of pregnancy is considered a crime. But this restrictive aspect is the evil that destroys our society today, forcing young people to use clandestine, risky and high cost abortion services.
When a girl becomes pregnant and does not have the means to support herself, when she is afraid of the stigmatizing looks her peers will give her, when she thinks that pregnancy will be a source of exclusion from society, when she thinks that pregnancy will be a barrier to the achievement of her professional goals, she may choose to interrupt the pregnancy in order to secure a better future. In her quest for physical, mental and moral well-being, she will be obliged to resort to unsafe, unsuitable and high-risk abortion services as limited by the legal conditions of access to safe, secure services.
Even though she is aware of the risks of uterine perforation, hemorrhage, infection and death from ‘backstreet providers’, she often sees no other choice. This is how our young sisters risk their lives every day and many die. Are we waiting for the day when one of us will fall victim to the restriction of access to full abortion services before becoming aware of these risks? We created this trap, which affects the well-being of our friends, sisters, daughters, cousins, nieces, aunts, and mothers. By “this trap”, I am not just talking about the stigmatizing and discriminatory looks young women face. I am also astonished when I see the shame and violence they suffer in society.
One of my classmates had to drop classes because of the stigmatization she faced having made a decisive choice for her health and future. I met her years later in a department store in Cotonou. From our discussion here is a sentence that touched me. “You have all rejected me, humiliated me and threatened me – I was the laughing-stock of the whole school. I lost my taste for schooling, but I thank my parents who supported me and helped me to be what I am today.”
In Benin, we young activists work mostly in colleges with our peers and teachers to reduce the stigma that young people face. We provide support to young women and can accompany them to safe services. We must generate debate through our communications via blog-posts, mass-media, and mass sensitizations. The well-being of all is at stake.