Sierra Leone’s President, Ernest Bai Koroma has for the second time in a short time, spanning December last year till this March, refused to sign a bill which will legalize abortion in the country. He insists that the matter should be put to a referendum. The bill had first been unanimously passed by MPs in December and following serious protests by religious leaders, Mr. Koroma refused to sign the bill, the bill returned to his desk again last month without so much as a single alteration by the MPs.
The proposed law would allow abortions in any of the following cases; any circumstances up to 12 weeks, cases of incest, rape and foetal impairments discovered up to 24 weeks in term. The lines on the issue are sharply divided in the country and President Koroma no doubt sees the gravity of his assent to the bill. While on one hand, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and some other rights organisations in Sierra Leone have urged the President to give his assent, pointing out in a letter they sent to him in February the incidence of unsafe abortions that result from the restrictive laws and the case of maternal deaths in the country.
The World health Organisation actually puts Sierra Leone at the topmost position in its estimates for highest mortality ratio with 1,360 deaths per 100,000 live births. The anti-abortion groups in the country however continue to protest the inclusion of the bill into law, leading to heated debates between both sides.
The President has now referred the legislation to the Constitutional Review Committee, which is currently in the process of reviewing the constitution. They will decide whether to include the bill in the recommended changes to the constitution which will then be put to a referendum. In case it is any wonder why the President does not throw out the bill out-rightly, the current constitution in the country does not allow the President veto a bill which has received two-thirds majority in the parliament, and this particular bill is unanimous.
So the President is balancing a rather fine line and his recent move which may leave the decision up to the public if the Constitutional Review Committee recommends it, may be the safest way for him to remain in public favor.