Laws on Abortion in Ghana: Legal and Illegal
Laws on Abortion in Ghana: In Ghana, the legal landscape surrounding abortion is well-defined. Abortions are permitted but must be conducted exclusively in specified medical facilities.
These include government hospitals, registered private hospitals, and clinics adhering to the Private Hospitals and Maternity Homes Act, 1958 (No. 8). Additionally, abortions may be performed at locations endorsed by the Minister of Health through a Legislative Instrument.
Any unauthorized abortion attempts are criminal offenses, punishable by a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. This applies not only to the pregnant woman but also to any medical practitioner or individual assisting in the procedure.
The definition of abortion in Ghana encompasses a broad spectrum. According to Act 29, section 58, article 3 of the Criminal Code of 1960, “Abortion or miscarriage means premature expulsion or removal of conception from the uterus or womb before the period of gestation is completed.” In essence, both “abortion” and “miscarriage” can be used interchangeably to describe this phenomenon. Despite medical attempts to differentiate between induced abortions and spontaneous miscarriages, Ghanaian law does not make this distinction.
Certain circumstances allow for legal abortions in Ghana:
- When the pregnancy results from rape, defilement, or incest, which are criminal acts in Ghana.
- When the pregnant woman herself requests the abortion.
- When the pregnant woman lacks the capacity to request the abortion, her next of kin can do so on her behalf. This includes cases where the woman is unconscious, mentally incapable, or a minor (below eighteen years, even though the legal age of consent is 16 years).
Abortion is considered a criminal offense as per Act 29, section 58 of the Criminal Code of 1960.
However, there are exceptions to this rule.
A registered medical practitioner, specializing in Gynaecology or any other registered medical practitioner in a government hospital, private hospital, or clinic registered under the Private Hospital and Maternity Home Act, 1958 (No. 9), or in a place approved for this purpose by legislative instrument made by the Secretary can perform abortions legally in the following circumstances:
- Pregnancy resulting from rape, defilement, or incest with the consent of the victim, her next of kin, or the person in loco parentis if she lacks the capacity to make such a request.
- When the pregnancy poses a substantial risk to the life or physical/mental health of the pregnant woman, and she consents or her next of kin consents on her behalf.
- In cases where there’s a substantial risk of the child being born with a serious physical abnormality or disease.
Statistical data from 2009 indicates that 7% of all pregnancies in Ghana are terminated, with 15% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 having experienced abortions. For every 1,000 women of childbearing age (15-44) in Ghana, 15 abortions are performed.
Urban women and those in certain demographics, such as unmarried, younger, and wealthier women, are more likely to seek abortions.
Abortion and Contraceptives
Low contraceptive usage contributes to the incidence of abortions in Ghana. The rate of contraceptive use has increased over time but remains relatively low. Consequently, a substantial proportion of pregnancies in Ghana are unintended, mistimed, or unwanted.
The average number of children per woman has decreased, but many women desire to have fewer children.
Barriers to contraceptive use include health concerns, fear of side effects, and limited access, particularly among poorer women.