procedure in a registered health facility.
A 1985 law clarified and expanded on the specific circumstances under which abortion is legal in Ghana. The Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service, an autonomous public service agency under the ministry, developed protocols in 2006 to ensure the safe provision of legal abortions.
Yet less than 4 percent of women ages 15 to 49 who said they had never had an abortion knew that it was legal under these circumstances, according to the 2007 Ghana Maternal Health Survey. Nearly 87 percent said they thought they could not legally obtain an abortion.
The survey attributed more than 10 percent of maternal deaths of women ages 15 to 49 to unsafe induced abortions.
Unsafe, homemade methods to induce abortion include drinking herbal concoctions, bleach or ground-up glass, according to several medical sources and nongovernmental organizations. Other young women may insert sticks or a small “Chorkor” bomb into their private parts.
When the bomb explodes, it tears open the vagina, says Dr. Maurice Ankrah, an obstetric gynecologist at La General Hospital in Accra. Although most women survive, they are unable to enjoy a healthy sex life.
Girls learn about these methods from their peers, according to Ipas, a global nongovernmental organization dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion.
Women resort to self-induced abortions because they don’t know that abortion is legal in some circumstances, says Dr. Patrick Aboagye, deputy director of the Reproductive and Child Health Department, a unit under the Family Health Division of the Ghana Health Service.
“There is still fear in the public domain that abortion is illegal, so people are afraid of going to the hospital, lest they be reported to the police,” Aboagye says.
Even authorities, including physicians and police officers, have been unclear on abortion law, says Dr. Samuel Otu-Nyarko, the director of public health in the Ghana Police Service.
"The police enforce laws,” Otu-Nyarko he says. “However, unfortunately because most of them did not know about the law on abortion, they were arresting health providers and women who were doing abortion legally and leaving those who were doing it illegally.”
Joel Akwetey, president of the Federation of Ghana Medical Students Association, says he first learned about abortion law in May 2012.
“I personally did not know that abortion was allowed in this country until Ipas came to train us,” he says.
Even with awareness, people still may not accept it.
“I found it difficult to accept this in the beginning because it just did not seem right,” he says. “I am a Christian, you know? I think the more people understand that abortion is a human rights issue, the more they will accept it, though I know it will be difficult.”
But stigma is currently strong. Young women fear judgment from society when seeking safe and legal abortion services, Otu-Nyarko says. This pushes them to resort to unsafe means to abort pregnancies.
Cultural stigma often prevents girls and young women from pursuing