December 14, 2015 — Lawmakers in Sierra Leone on Tuesday passed the Safe Abortion Act, which legalizes abortion care and replaces the country's near-total ban on the procedure, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.
The legislation must still be signed by President Ernest Bai Koroma.
Sierra Leone currently has in place an 1861 law that bans abortion except when the woman's life is in danger. According to the World Health Organization, roughly one in 70 women in the country dies during or soon after delivery. Advocates who campaigned for the new legislation said that about one-third of those maternal deaths result from unsafe abortions.
Under the new legislation, women in the country could obtain legal abortion care during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion care beyond that timeframe would be legal only in instances of rape, incest or risk to the health of the woman or fetus. Women younger than age 18 would only be able to obtain abortion care with parental consent.
The new legislation also imposes a minimum jail sentence of four years for unqualified individuals who provide abortion care.
Ipas, a reproductive-health advocacy organization, said the measure could save Sierra Leone more than $100,000 per year. According to Ipas, the country currently spends about $230,000 annually to treat women who have received unsafe abortion care.
Ufuoma Omo-Obi -- country director for Marie Stopes, another organization that campaigned for abortion law reform -- said, "This law is a huge opportunity to save countless lives from preventable deaths" (Guilbert, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 12/10).