Sierra Leone is not exactly Dixie, but given the
furious pushback against the abortion bill
now before Parliament from a religious
establishment, both Christian and Moslem, backed by an intensely conservative
public, Sierra Leone might as well be one of the states in the Bible Belt of
the USA. It is Roe v Wade on the Rokel with politicians, not the courts, tossing
the political hot potato from Wansey Hill (site of Sierra Leone's Parliament)
down to Fort Thornton (State House) and back.
Abortion has enjoyed a wink and a nod attitude from
Sierra Leoneans for generations. Called "poil belleh" in Krio, gossipy
neighbors, friends and family are always in the know when neighborhood young
ladies exercise what US liberals might call "freedom of choice" with their
bodies. And the presence of abortion providers, untrained medical practitioners
in some cases, is quietly acknowledged by the Sierra Leoneans among whom they
live and work. But the passing of the Safe Abortion Act 2015 by Parliament that
made abortion legal and safe also opened a can of worms that politicians never
imagined would threaten to put a stink on their careers.
President Ernest B. Koroma, ever the pol attuned to
the direction public opinion is tending, sensed political trouble, refused to
sign the bill and punted it right back to the hill where Nova Scotian settler
Nathaniel Wansey used to farm in 1794. With the religious establishment putting
aside any differences between Islam and Christianity to increase pressure against the bill, Parliamentarians with no
place to hide are getting their hands or other parts of their anatomies best
left unmentioned scalded.
Meanwhile, on talk radio and on the streets, Sierra
Leoneans are angrily denouncing politicians for even daring to introduce such a
law. Would they have been around to contemplate such a law had their own mothers
aborted them? some callers asked indignantly. One caller said Sierra Leone passed the law
because she is a signatory to the Maputo Accords, a treaty that guarantees safe
and legal abortions. Others said the abortion law was a prelude to the passing
of a gay rights bill, another issue that deeply disgusts Sierra Leoneans.
Whatever the outcome, and the prospects are not
looking good for the bill, the government could come out of the abortion debate
smelling, well, like roses. Parliamentarians could avoid the wrath of
their constituents and the charge heard around Sierra Leone that they represent
themselves and not the opinions of voters, by voting down the bill. Fittingly,
government spokesmen will sound off about democracy being alive and well in
Sierra Leone because the bill was defeated only after much debate.
As for Sierra Leone's pro abortion advocates, the
lesson they can draw from the landmark 1973 US law known as Roe v Wade is that next
time they should turn to the courts and not the politicians who really cannot
take the heat.