Niger suspends activity of British charity over abortions

Niger has ordered the closure of two centres run by British charity Marie Stopes International on grounds it was illegally performing abortions, the health minister told AFP on Tuesday.

"We have decided to close this charity on grounds of a 2006 law which bans abortions," said Health Minister Idi Illiassou.

"Our inquiries have shown that this non-governmental organisation is enabling the voluntary interruption of pregnancy" but the partnership agreement with Niger "does not authorise this," he said.

The charity, which operates in 37 countries and has been working in Niger since 2014, offers contraception and advice on managing unplanned pregnancies, including safe abortion services, its website says.

"The voluntary interruption of pregnancy should never be considered as a method of contraception, in any case," reads the closure order relating to the two centres run by Marie Stopes in Niamey, the capital, and in Maradi, the country's economic hub.

Niger allows abortion only in cases where the pregnancy endangers the mother's life.

The charity was not immediately available for a response on the issue.

According to Illiassou, the British charity was terminating pregnancies through a method of "manual vacuum aspiration for a fee of $52", saying the government would take legal steps against those involved.

A source at the health ministry told AFP that police were currently searching for the charity's "Nigerien accomplices" who had fled.

According to the charity's website, it began assessment visits in 2013 "at the request of the Nigerian Ministry of Health" and began delivering contraceptive services a year later. Its first centre opened in Niamey in 2016.

Figures relating to Marie Stopes' work in Niger say 12 472 unintended pregnancies were prevented in 2017, and 4 748 unsafe abortions were prevented.

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