Niger closes UK charity's health centres, says they performed abortions

NIAMEY, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Niger’s health ministry has ordered two family planning centres run by British charity Marie Stopes International (MSI) to close because it performed abortions, the ministry said on Wednesday.

Abortion is banned under Nigerien law except in cases when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. The West African nation has one of the highest fertility rates in the world and a population that is expected to triple by 2050.

A spokesperson for MSI in Niger did not address the ministry’s accusations directly but said that the charity was cooperating with the authorities and that family planning services conducted in Niger outside the two centres were continuing.

Population growth is placing pressure on Niger, which stretches into the Sahara desert and already struggles to feed its people. But attempts by the majority-Muslim country to lower its birth rate and promote family planning have been fiercely resisted by religious and traditional leaders.

Health Minister Idi Illiassou Mainassara told Reuters the MSI centres in the capital Niamey and the central region of Maradi were closed this month after an investigation by authorities.

“The investigation allowed us to identify 15 young girls who had abortions at this medical centre,” Mainassara said, referring to the Niamey centre.

The ministry’s general inspector, Mai Moctar Hassane, said government inspectors found that the centres were providing manual vacuum aspiration - a suction procedure used to terminate early pregnancies - and selling misoprostol, a labour-inducing drug.

In a statement, the MSI spokesperson said: “Wherever we work, Marie Stopes International respects and complies with the national laws and regulations governing our services.”

The charity provides contraception and safe abortion to women around the world, according to its website. It has operated since 2014 in Niger, where it delivers contraceptive services and works to prevent unsafe abortions. (Reporting by Boureima Balima; Additional reporting by Sofia Christensen in Dakar; Editing by Hugh Lawson)