Benin parliament votes to legalise abortion


COTONOU, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Benin's parliament has voted to legalise abortion in most circumstances, the health ministry said on Thursday, becoming one of only a handful of African countries to do so.

Abortion was previously legal only in cases of rape or incest, if the mother's life was at risk, or if the unborn child had a particularly serious medical condition.

The new law says abortion may be permitted if the pregnancy is "likely to aggravate or cause a situation of material, educational, professional or moral distress incompatible with the interests of the woman and/or the unborn child".

The law was passed on Wednesday night following a debate in parliament. It still needs to be ratified by the constitutional court before it takes effect.

The law makes Benin a rarity in Africa. As of 2016, only Zambia, Cape Verde, Mozambique, South Africa and Tunisia had relatively liberal abortion laws, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based research organization.

"This measure is going to ease the pain of many women who, faced with the distress of an unwanted pregnancy, find themselves obliged to risk their lives by using unsafe abortion methods," Health Minister Benjamin Hounkpatin said.

He estimated that unsafe abortions are responsible for 20% of maternal deaths nationwide.

"(This law) will be welcomed by the all the medical personnel who deal with complications from abortions on a daily basis," Hounkpatin told reporters.

Teenage pregnancy is common in Benin and only about 12% of people use modern methods of contraception, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Reporting by Allegresse Sasse; Writing by Nellie Peyton; editing by Aaron Ross and Angus MacSwan

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