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Legalization of Abortion in Benin “opens door to killings”: Catholic Priest

Screen capture of Fr. Eric Okpéitcha who was guest at Bi-News TV’s Diagonale October 31. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The bill to legalize abortion in most circumstance that was voted October 20 in the West African nation of Benin opens the door to killings, a Catholic Priest has said, calling for respect for human life.

“Abortion is an inhumane act that destroys life and its legalization in Benin maintains a culture of death,” Fr. Eric Okpéitcha has been quoted as saying.

The Communication officer of the Episcopal Conference of Benin (CEB) who was guest at Bi-News TV’s Diagonale October 31 expressed deep regret and "great disappointment" following the adoption of the law legalizing abortion in Benin.

“This law is an open door for killings and the Church cannot accept it,” Fr. Okpéitcha said.

On October 20, lawmakers 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.

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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 reported.

Catholic Bishops in Benin described the bill as a threat to life which fosters “culture of death.”

“This law is nothing more than a pure and simple legalization of abortion,” CEB members said in a collective statement issued October 19.

“Abortion is an inhuman act that destroys the life of the fetus but also that of the mother in many ways,” they added.

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

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In the October 31 TV interview, Fr. Okpéitcha explained, “The stakes are high, for it is a question of life. For the Church, life is sacred, life comes from God. There is a divine commandment that says thou shalt not kill. So, from these principles, the Church cannot remain silent especially when it comes to life and abortion, which is clearly defined as an inhuman act that destroys a life.”

He recalled that Catholic Bishops in Benin had pleaded in the name of God with the lawmakers to draw from the beliefs of the country they represent, the necessary resources to say "a categorical no to a culture of death.”

Life, Fr. Okpéitcha said, “is a gift from God, a treasure that God entrusts to man and for which man will give an account.” 

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.”

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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 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.”

According to Fr. Okpéitcha, "The Church holds that, from the moment you have a pregnant woman, the pregnancy is not a part of the woman. Pregnancy is another human being that remains in the woman's uterus for a few months, and therefore, it is brought out of this environment to take its autonomy as a human being if it has the chance to be born.”

“If there are two beings that are together, why secure one at the expense of the other?” he posed.

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The amendment of the bill, the Catholic Priest said, “broadens the basis of cases by referring to the material, educational, psychological, professional and moral distress of the woman.”

“From now on, the woman can mention these reasons and obtain from her doctor the greenlight to have an abortion. These new modalities do not pass with the Catholic Clergy,” Fr. Okpéitcha said.

He continued, “The Church holds that only God is the master of life and only God can dispose of life. No other man has the right to dispose of the life of another.”

“The Church cannot agree that the woman can dispose of her body and therefore dispose of the life of the fetus, which is another human being,” he added. 

Meanwhile, on October 31, CEB organized a day of fasting and prayer dedicated exclusively to the defense of life in response to the bill legalizing abortion in Benin.

According to Fr. Okpéitcha, "The Church is on the moral and religious level. When there are difficulties, when there are serious problems, the religious man turns first to God.”

“So, fasting and praying is to say to the Lord, we are in a difficult situation, we are afraid that innocent lives will be sacrificed, will be killed; you have entrusted us with life as a gift and we will give an account of it one day, now here is the situation, help us,” he added.

The Cleric noted that the initiative is first of all an “act of intercession to call for help.”

The day of prayer and fasting is “an effort of awareness that the church leads to awaken the conscience of citizens on the fact that life is sacred,” Fr. Okpéitcha said October 31.