Abortion Rights for Women Rescued from Boko Haram

By Emma Husband, Staff Writer

Over 500 women have now been rescued by the Nigerian army from Boko Haram, where they were being help captive as sex slaves.

As a result, many of the rescued women are pregnant. While there has been a lot of talk about the need for healthcare, counselling and aid for these women and consequent provision of this, there's been a lot less about providing safe abortions for those who choose.

Regaining control over one's body is an important part of the healing process for those who have undergone sexual violence. The trauma of rape and sexual assault can often cause disassociations with the body, which is used an unconscious coping mechanism. While this can be useful for gaining control over events that have happened, it can also stunt healing and possibly replicate the challenge to bodily autonomy that rape causes.  

As such, regaining a say in what happens to one's body and the ability to control this can be a powerful healing tool. In order for this to happen, there must be choices available and the autonomous opportunities to make these choices.

Women who have been raped in conflict often suffer stigma and isolation in the community. This is increased when they have a child as a result of that rape, and also extends to the child. On the other hand, some women who bear the child of their rape do so in order that something positive can come out of the horrific ordeal. While there is no correct way forward, the importance of having choices available is paramount.

Despite abortion being illegal in Nigeria except in cases where a woman's life is at risk, there are legal frameworks in place and a precedent for providing abortions to women who have been raped. It was widely acknowledged that any women and girls rescued from Boko Haram would have been used as sex slaves and abused and so there was work done beforehand regarding the possibilities for provision of safe abortions.

However, this hasn't translated into effective action.

While hoping that more women will be rescued from the militants' grips, we need to keep raising our voices about their rights afterwards so that they have choices about their own lives.