ACCRA, GHANA – Naa, a 20-year-old woman, says she almost died five years ago from a self-induced abortion in her home in La, a slum of Accra, Ghana's capital. She declined to publish her last name to avoid stigma in her community.
When she was 15, she realized she was two-months pregnant. She was in her final year of junior high school and worried the school administration would expel her if they found out.
"My dream was to go all the way to the tertiary level and get a good job so I can take care of my mother and sister,” she says. “I knew I couldn't do that with the pregnancy."
Because she is the firstborn, it is her responsibility to take care of her family, she says. So she got a bitter, herbal concoction from some friends and took it to abort the fetus.
After drinking it, she says she felt abdominal pains and began bleeding. Her mother found her less than an hour later when she came home. She rushed her to the hospital, where the doctor aborted the fetus in order to save her life.
"I nearly died taking in those herbal concoctions,” Naa says. “I thank God my mother came home early from work that day."
Naa was able to stay in school, but she says she performed poorly in her final exams. She could not concentrate in class and was not punctual because other students made fun of her and made comments about her abortion.
She completed junior high school and managed to attend a low-ranking senior high school. After finishing high school, she was not accepted into tertiary school.
She says she had been an average student before her abortion. She blames the abortion and social stigma attached to it for her decline in performance.
Today, she still does not know that abortion is legal in Ghana under certain circumstances or that there are safe methods for abortion available in those instances. If Naa has another unwanted pregnancy, she says she would still resort to an unsafe abortion.
Doctors say young women in Ghana resort to self-induced abortions because they and even local police and health care professionals are unclear on abortion laws. Young women and doctors also fear cultural stigma in their communities and from health care providers who disapprove of even safe and legal abortion. Several organizations are educating police officers, health care workers and other stakeholders on the law. Some doctors say self-induced abortion is decreasing as a result, but others say it continues to fuel maternal mortality.
Abortion is legal in Ghana if the pregnancy risks the mother’s life or injury of her physical or mental health. It is also legal if the pregnancy resulted from rape, from incest or from defilement of a mentally disabled woman. The third legal condition is if the child may suffer from, or later develop, a serious physical abnormality or disease. Abortion in these cases is legal only if qualified health personnel perform the