The Speaker of Parliament, Hon S.B.B Dumbuya, yesterday halted the debate on the 2015 Safe Abortion Bill as Members of Parliament present during the preceding did not form a quorum of two third of the majority.
The Bill, which according to some people, seems controversial was laid before the House for proper debate and if possible enacted into Law by Hon Isatu Kabia from Port Loko District.
Before the Bill was laid for debate, there were more than sixty MPs who were actively contributing towards the ratification of two Subsidiary Loan agreements between Sierra Leone and the Regional Transmission Company of Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia and Guinea (TRANSCO CLSG) brought in by the Minister of Finance, Kelfala Marrah.
Presenting the Bill to Members of Parliament, Hon Isata Kabia, explained that during the review process of it they travelled round the country to seek the views of the people they are representing in Parliament, citing the Convention on the Elimination of all forms Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Committee which recommended for the decriminalization of Abortion Legislation by member states.
She disclosed that the CEDAW Committee, in its review of Sierra Leone in 2014, noted with concern the high maternal maternity ratio in the country and the fact that the law on abortion criminalizes the procedure without providing any exception to the high incidence of sexual violence and unwanted pregnancy resulting in an unsafe abortions which account for 30% of maternal mortality.
She recalled the ‘delay in adopting the Abortion Bill which decriminalizes the termination of pregnancy based on various medical and socio-economic grounds’, adding that Sierra Leone has signed or ratified almost all international and national treaties and optional protocols that are designed to protect human rights.
According to the her, the English Advances Against the Persons Act 1861 is still in effect as it does not authorize abortion under any circumstance. ‘Doctors have often used general criminal law principles of necessity to carry out the procedure to save the life of a pregnant women, explaining that Britain had amended it 1861 law four times and it is about to review it again whiles Sierra Leone is yet to make one, citing section 58 of the said Act which makes abortion a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment from 3 years to life even when performing it on medical reason.
She disclosed that approximately across the world every year 210 million women become pregnant and it was estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) that in 2008 approximately 21.6 million pregnancies globally were terminated under unsafe conditions, all in developing countries, adding that death due to unsafe abortion is estimated at 47,000 globally.
“According to WHO, 650 deaths occur on 100,000 from unsafe abortion procedures in Africa compared with only 10 in developed regions. Every 8 minutes a woman dies in a developing country due to complications or unsafe abortion,” she maintained.
During the debate, Hon Dixon Rogers drew the attention of the Speaker of Parliament to the Standing Order section 7(1) which makes provision for a debate to discontinue if Members present do not form a quorum and further cited section 7(2) which calls for the Speaker’s attention to the issue and for members to be summoned within 10 minutes to be part of the debate.
In response, the Minority Leader, Hon Bernadette Lahai, argued that Parliament with a quorum in the morning debated the two loan agreements, and that Parliament will not sit if they do not have a quorum as the present situation is a continuation of the earlier quorum, so they should continue with the debate, which the Speaker, Hon S.B.B Dumbuya accepted.
The Sitting was adjourned and resumed after 15 minutes with the same number of MPs present that do not form a quorum, but after few minutes the Speaker informed the MPs that were present that the debate will not continue as he will not go against the law that there must be two thirds of MPs to form a quorum.
In that light, the debate was discontinued with majority of the MPs sitting outside the well of Parliament.