Benin passed one of Africa’s most liberal abortion laws. Why are women still dying?

Social and spiritual factors mean that desperate women are still risking their lives by resorting to unsafe terminations

Sarah Johnson
Tue 28 Feb 2023

There is a patient Dr Véronique Tognifode, a gynaecologist, will always remember. About eight years ago, Abosede*, a student, visited her clinic in tears. Pregnant with an unwanted baby, she asked for an abortion, but the law in Benin at that time permitted termination only in cases of rape or incest, or where the mother’s life was at risk or the unborn child had a serious medical condition.

Tognifode counselled her, telling her a baby was a blessing and that she would help her through the pregnancy. Tognifode felt Abosede took all this on board, and “she left in a calmer state, saying she would come back for prenatal appointments”.


While Abortion Rights Shrink in U.S., This Small Country Expanded Access

The West African nation of Benin adopted one of the continent’s most liberal laws on abortion last year after hearing testimony from gynecologists about women dying from illegal abortions.

By Elian Peltier
Nov. 13, 2022

COTONOU, Benin — When lawmakers in the West African nation of Benin met last year to consider whether to legalize abortion, they heard shocking testimony from Dr. Véronique Tognifode, the country’s minister of social affairs, about what she had seen during her years working as a gynecologist.

She recounted how she and her peers had struggled to save women who had tried to end their pregnancies by ingesting dubious pills or bleach, inserting sharp objects into their bodies or getting illegal abortions from the dangerous hacks known locally as “mechanics.”


Abortion in Kenya and Benin: medical safety isn’t enough – women and girls need to feel safe socially too

September 27, 2022
Ramatou Ouedraogo, Grace Kimemia, Jonna Both

Safe abortion and post abortion care are essential health services. But until the publication of the 2022 World Health Organization (WHO) abortion care guidelines there was a narrow definition of abortion safety. In previous WHO guidelines, medical safety was the guiding principle of safe abortion. Safety, according the WHO, referred to abortion carried out using the recommended methods, by a person with the necessary skills or in an environment that conformed to minimal medical standards, or both.

However, research shows that many girls and young women do not search for medical safety when seeking abortion care. They prioritise “social safety”. This is the case regardless of whether they live in settings with restrictive or more liberal laws. Women’s priority is avoiding prosecution and social stigma.


Standing strong: youth health workers from Benin share lessons from sexual and reproductive health and rights workshop

28 April 2022
FIGO Advocating for Safe Abortion Project

From 9–11 March 2022, in Cotonou, Benin, FIGO’s Advocating for Safe Abortion Project worked with the National College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Benin (CNGOB) to organise a capacity building workshop for their counterparts visiting from Mali alongside the Youth Health Workers for Safe Abortion (YHW4SA) – a Beninese network of young pro-choice health professionals set-up in 2021 by CNGOB.  

The group attending the workshop was made up of 15 members of the YHW4SA network and five members of the Malian Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (SOMAGO).  

The aim was to share knowledge and tools on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and on best practice to discuss abortion, in order to enable participants to address abortion stigma and strengthen access to safe abortion in their workplaces and wider communities.  


2021: Changes in abortion laws worldwide

Poland has virtually banned abortion, and the United States is also looking at tightening restrictions. But other countries, like Thailand and Benin, have started to loosen their restrictive measures. An overview.

Ines Eisele

Access to abortion has become easier over the decades, according to Leah Hoctor, the senior regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. She said that, with some exceptions, the global trend clearly points at liberalization. Several countries saw developments on the controversial issue over the last year.

Mexico: Penalizing abortion ruled unconstitutional
In September, the Supreme Court in Mexico, Latin America's second most populous country, declared an absolute ban on abortion unconstitutional. The right of women to reproductive self-determination is to be valued more highly than the protection of the fetus, the court said. With the ruling, the judges overturned an abortion ban in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila.


Looking back on the successes of the International Safe Abortion Day 2021

10 December 2021
FIGO Advocating for Safe Abortion Project

For International Safe Abortion Day (ISAD), marked on 28 September, the 10 national member societies FIGO supports through its Advocating for Safe Abortion Project developed educational activities and awareness-raising campaigns in their countries and communities.

“International Safe Abortion Day is about making what is often ignored – the preventable pandemic of unsafe abortions -  visible. As a committed health care community we come together to demonstrate what solutions must be implemented. Together with our partners, we raise our voices to dismantle abortion-related stigma which is the enemy of women/girls’ right to claim access to safe abortion – time-sensitive essential health care.  This year from Latin America to Africa we are proud to share the efforts of our OBGYN member societies, and all that they are doing to stand up for women/girls’ health care and human rights.”
– Jessica Morris, Senior Project Manager, Advocating for Safe Abortion Project, FIGO


Benin Liberalizes Abortion Law

10 NOVEMBER 2021
By Katrin Gänsler, Deutsche Welle (Bonn)

Benin's parliament has voted to legalize abortion in most cases, becoming one of only a handful of African countries to do so.

Claudia can still remember when her mother forbade her from ever considering an abortion. She was a 16-year-old school student in Cotonou, Benin's economic hub.

"She said: 'If you get pregnant, you have to have the child'. She would never have allowed me to get an abortion," Claudia, who is now 28, told DW.


Benin’s groundbreaking new abortion law will save the lives of many women

November 7, 2021
Ramatou Ouedraogo

Benin’s parliament has voted to legalise abortion in most circumstances. This is a groundbreaking move by the west African country given that 92% of women of reproductive age on the continent live in countries which have restrictions – some moderate, some severe – on abortions. Moina Spooner, from The Conversation Africa, asked reproductive health expert, Ramatou Ouedraogo, to unpack the significance of this ruling.

What does Benin’s new abortion law say?
Benin’s new abortion law, which amends a previous one, now states that:


Opinion divided after Benin legalised abortion

A new law that allows women in Benin to terminate pregnancy within the first three months has received divided opinion from stakeholders.

Monday, November 01, 2021
By Kamau Maichuhie, Gender Reporter

Benin’s parliament recently voted to legalise abortion. Under the new law, women will be at liberty to terminate their pregnancy within the first three months if it is likely to “aggravate or cause material, educational, professional or moral distress, and be incompatible with her or the unborn child’s interest.

Opinion among various stakeholders is, however, divided over the move.


‘Letting women decide’: Activists hail Benin abortion vote

Before October 20, abortion was allowed only in specific circumstances; but now, Benin has legalised the practice with the aim of ending unsafe practices.

By Chisom Peter Job
Published On 27 Oct 2021

Littoral, Benin – One afternoon in September 2018, Fatima Ismail found out she was pregnant after a friend told her to do a test. Aged 21 and fearful of what people would think, Ismail decided to get an abortion.

“It’s simple, I wasn’t ready for a child, and the father wasn’t either,” she recalled. “I went to the hospital for another test, and after the doctor confirmed that I indeed was pregnant, I asked ‘for a second option’.”