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Why Reform to the Abortion Laws in Benin was so Crucial

In 2019, Dr Veronique Tognifode became the west African country’s minister of social affairs and was instrumental in getting MPs to vote to legalise abortion in most circumstances in October 2021. She didn’t do it alone; two other ministers, also gynaecologists, were heavily involved, as were professional bodies and civil society organisations who lobbied for years for expanded abortion rights. They also had support from Benin’s president, Patrice Talon. The move was in stark contrast to the US where, less than a year later, the supreme court overturned Roe v Wade, ending the nationwide right to abortion. Abortion is now permitted in Benin if the pregnancy is “likely to aggravate or cause a situation of material, educational, professional or moral distress incompatible with the interests of the woman and/or the unborn child”. Abortions can be carried out up to 12 weeks after the absence of a period. It is one of the most liberal laws in Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, as of 2019, 92% of women of reproductive age live in countries with restricted abortion rights. In Africa, only São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Tunisia, Zambia and Guinea-Bissau have similarly liberal abortion laws. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest abortion case-fatality rate in the world, amounting to 15,000 preventable deaths every year.