Among Africa’s 54 countries, only four have liberalized abortion laws: South Africa, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Tunisia.
Across the rest of the continent levels of abortion restrictions vary considerably. In Nigeria, for instance, procuring an abortion can get a person jailed for 14-years, according to Dayo Okusami, partner at Templars in Lagos.
But there are fears now that the overturning of Roe v Wade in the U.S. may not only further hinder liberalization in countries whose justice systems are informed by the U.S., but much needed healthcare funding from the U.S. might be choked.
In Kenya the laws only allow abortions in cases where the health or life of the pregnant mother or the child she is carrying are at risk, according to Stephanie Musho, partner at Kenyan based SM Law & Policy.
Attempts have been made to liberalise the abortion laws in the country in the past, but the overturning of Roe v Wade will negatively influence any progress in that direction, she said.
As with many other African countries, Kenya’s health care sector receives funding from U.S. NGOs and is therefore influenced by U.S. policy, said Musho.
Nigeria’s abortion law is a hold-over from a British colonial Law that was adopted in the nineteenth century and never changed, according to Okusami.
“But in recent history we haven’t seen any cases on this. Abortion is widely and openly practiced, but the law is not enforced. Nobody is procecuting it, because nobody cares. There are too many other priorities.”
He added that the overturning of Roe v Wade in the U.S. did not even make it into the news in Nigeria.
At the other end of the scale, Tunisia, the smallest country in Africa, on the northern tip of the continent, was the first Islamic country to give the same rights to women as to men.
“Being the only one wasn’t easy back in the 1960s,” said Mohamed Zanouni, managing partner at Zaanouni Law Firm & Associates, a Dentons member firm.
He said since 1973, women have been permitted to procure an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy and even after that on a case to case basis.
There is little chance that the overturning of Roe v Wade in the U.S. will influence these policies, he added. “They are too entrenched in our culture and we have female government ministers.”
In South Africa, the right to an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy has been enshrined in the constitution and in the law since 1996.
“The problem is that Roe v Wade will give strength to those people who are trying to undermine the right to abortion in South Africa,” said Cathi Albertyn, a law professor at the University of the Witwatersrand and South African research chair on equality, law and social justice.
She said there have been several unsuccessful attempts to overturn the abortion rights in the past, including two unsuccessful high court cases.
None of those have been successful in parliament, and it is unlikely to happen in the future unless the make up of parliament changes significantly or a Republican or conservative-dominated parliament comes into being.
As for the rest of Africa, she said, “I think for those that don’t have such an act in place, Roe v Wade will make it more difficult to put one in place.”
She said the American right wing is very active in Africa on anti-abortion, and anti-same sex relationships and marriage.
They say, “we must decolonise Africa and purge them of these colonial ideas,” said Albertyn.