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Vote to Legalize Abortion Fosters “culture of death”: Catholic Bishops in Benin

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

A bill seeking to legalize abortion in most circumstances in the West African nation of Benin through the amendment of the law on sexual health is a threat to life and seeks to foster a “culture of death”, Catholic Bishops in the country noted in a statement earlier this week.

In their collective statement Monday, October 19, the Catholic Bishops urged Members of Parliament (MPs) in Benin to vote against the bill, a plea that went unheeded.

On Wednesday, October 20, MPs in Benin adopted the bill modifying the provisions of Articles 17 and 19 of the Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2003, thus legalizing abortion in most circumstances, according to Panapress, the African News Agency headquartered in Dakar, Senegal.

The law, which highlights various circumstances when medical doctors can authorize abortion, “still needs to be ratified by the constitutional court before it takes effect,” Reuters has reported.

In their statement at the end of the 2021 Ordinary Plenary session, members of the Episcopal Conference of Benin (CEB) express concerns about the law that is yet to be ratified by Benin’s Constitutional Court.

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“On the second day of its ordinary plenary session of October 2021, the Episcopal Conference of Benin was informed of the imminent vote in the National Assembly of the bill modifying law n°2003-04 of March 3, 2003 on sexual and reproductive health. This law is nothing more than a pure and simple legalization of abortion,” Catholic Bishops in Benin say in their October 19 collective statement shared with ACI Africa, a day before MPs voted in favor of the bill.

CEB members were urging MPs in the West African nation to oppose the bill saying, “You, the Members of Parliament, You, the God-fearing parliamentarians, You, the Catholic parliamentarians, The Bishops of Benin beseech you in the name of God, in the name of our humanity, in the name of the little innocents, to draw from the cultural, moral and spiritual values of the people you represent, the necessary resources to say a categorical NO to the culture of death.”

Earlier this month, the President of Benin’s National Assembly, Louis Vlavonou, reportedly expressed his strong opposition of the then proposed bill to legalize abortion in most circumstances. 

Addressing young people while participating in a round table on the right to sexual and reproductive health on October 8, Mr. Vlavonou denounced “a plot by the West” to impose immoral values in Africa.

“It would be dangerous to put in the hands of women a tool to destroy life in their capacity as mothers, who are supposed to protect it,” the President of Benin’s National Assembly was quoted as saying in the October 12 publication.

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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.”

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.”

“The law makes Benin a rarity in Africa,” Reuters has 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.”

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In their October 19 statement signed by CEB President, Bishop Victor Agbanou, Catholic Bishops in Benin say, “Abortion is an inhuman act that destroys the life of the foetus but also that of the mother in many ways.”

They remind the people of God in Benin of the “unconditional respect for the sacred and inviolable character of life, especially that of the innocent.”

“There are safe and reliable alternatives to remedy the ills that are intended to be solved by the legalization of abortion,” CEB members say in their collective statement shared with ACI Africa.