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Catholic Bishops in Benin Call for Respect of Sanctity of life “in all circumstances”

Bishop Eugène Cyrille Houndékon reading the message of members of the Episcopal Conference of Benin (CEB)/ Credit: Courtesy Photo

Catholic Bishops in Benin are calling on the people of God in the West African nation to uphold sanctity of human life “in all circumstances”.

The Catholic Bishops’ call follows the adoption of a modified legislation, legalizing abortion in most circumstances in the country.

In October 2021, legislators in Benin adopted the bill modifying the provisions of Articles 17 and 19 of the Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2003, legalizing abortion in most circumstances, Panapress, the African News Agency headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, has reported.

The new law highlights various circumstances when medical doctors can authorize abortions.

Article 17 of the new law, for instance, spells out circumstances when a medical doctor is authorized to prescribe abortion, described as “the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.”

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Under this article, abortion can be authorized if “the continuation of the pregnancy endangers the life and health of the pregnant woman.”

Abortion can also be authorized if “the pregnancy is the consequence of a rape or an incestuous relationship and the request is made by the pregnant woman if she is an adult, or by her legal representatives in the case of a minor.”

A medical doctor can also authorize abortion if “the unborn child is suffering from a particularly serious condition at the time of diagnosis.”

In a collective statement shared with ACI Africa Monday, January 24, members of the Episcopal Conference of Benin (CEB) make reference to their previous opposition to attempts to legalize abortion.

“Despite our disapproval and the lively debates that it provoked in public opinion, Law No. 2021-12 of 20 December 2021 modifying and completing Law No. 2003-04 of 3 March 2003 on sexual and reproductive health was promulgated,” the Catholic Bishops lament.

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“Direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being,” CEB members say, making reference to the Encyclical Letter of  St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae.

CEB members encourage Catholics and people of good will to “respect the sanctity of life in all circumstances.”

Last year, CEB members condemned the bill that sought to legalize abortion in most circumstances through the amendment of the law on sexual health saying the proposed legislation was a move to foster a “culture of death” in Benin.

“Abortion is an inhuman act that destroys the life of the fetus but also that of the mother in many ways,” the Catholic Bishops said in a collective statement issued October 19.

In their latest eight-point statement dated January 21, CEB members Bishops recommend the “creation and the operationalization in all the Dioceses of Benin, not only of centres for listening to and accompanying girls or women in distress with regard to a pregnancy, but also of structures for welcoming life where children born of difficult pregnancies could have the chance to live.”

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The Catholic Church leaders say, “Catholic bioethics commissions will be set up at diocesan and national level to keep the flame of the culture and defense of life alive.”

The new legislation “makes Benin a rarity in Africa,” Reuters reported, adding in reference to the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based research organization, “As of 2016, only Zambia, Cape Verde, Mozambique, South Africa and Tunisia had relatively liberal abortion laws.” 

In their January 21 statement signed by CEB President, Bishop Victor Agbanou, Catholic Bishops in Benin also reflect on the economic crisis the West African nation is facing.

“We are concerned about the soaring prices on the local markets which have considerably reduced the purchasing power of certain sections of our population,” CEB members say in their collective statement shared with ACI Africa.

They encourage the government to “take the necessary social measures to relieve the population, especially the less privileged.”

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The Catholic Church leaders also express their appreciation to the government for “the numerous efforts made to guarantee the security of people and property and to defend the integrity of the national territory.”

They recommend “collaboration and unity among sons and daughters of Benin around the major issues of affecting the nation.”

“We invite the Beninese people to put the love of their country above all else by resisting the lure of easy gain,” CEB members further say. add.

They implore, “May God continue to bless and protect Benin! May the spirit of reconciliation and national cohesion grow in the hearts of its sons and daughters!”