In Nigeria, a Woman Faces a Difficult Choice

Abiodun Ibrahim, 24, an unemployed Nigerian woman, is four months pregnant by a common law husband who is in jail. Image by Allison Shelley. Nigeria, 2013.

Though abortions are mostly illegal in Nigeria, they are not difficult to obtain, but for those without money, they can involve tremendous risks. Image by Allison Shelley. Nigeria, 2013.

Thousands of Nigerian women die every year from complications related to unsafe abortions. The country has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. Image by Allison Shelley. Nigeria, 2013.

Ibrahim already takes care of her six-year-old nephew. Image by Allison Shelley. Nigeria, 2013.

Ibrahim's situation is made worse by the fact that she lost her home in a fire. She is on the left in this photo, resting outside what remains of her home. Image by Allison Shelley. Nigeria, 2013.

Ibrahim, sitting in what remains of her home, has already lost one baby in childbirth and aborted another. Of her latest pregnancy, she says, “I am confused about what to do. It would be painful for me to raise the baby alone.” Image by Allison Shelley. Nigeria, 2013.

LAGOS, Nigeria — Planks serve as sidewalks, and raised wooden structures serve as homes, bars and beauty parlors here in Badia East, a slum built on marshy landfill in this West African city. Abiodun Ibrahim, four months pregnant and newly homeless, sat deep toward the back of this neighborhood. She was contemplating terminating her pregnancy.

While technically legal only to save the life of the mother, abortions are readily available in Lagos' underground market. But the quality and safety of the procedures vary widely. Ibrahim, 24, had no source of income and planned to borrow money from family whether she aborted or continued the pregnancy.

Her house had burned down days before, after a neighbor forgot about a pot of beans on the fire. In the cramped remnants of her home the walls were blackened, and charred boards were stacked in the corner; the air still had a tinge of charcoal. Ibrahim slept now in a roofed but otherwise open structure at the end of a plank walkway.

She spent most of her days there, lounging, waiting, surrounded by a shifting crew of young urbanites. Boys rolled thick joints of India hemp and debated their favorite rappers — Nigerian 2Face and American Lil Wayne. Most of the young women had small children on their hips.

The man Ibrahim called her husband was in prison. "Every day I ask myself, think to myself, 'Will I have the abortion?'" she said. "I have been struggling to survive. That is why I am confused on what to do now … It would be very painful for me to raise the baby alone."

Already Ibrahim had given birth to one baby, who died, and aborted an earlier pregnancy. She had no complications from the first abortion, which is lucky. Botched abortions kill 3,000 to 34,000 women every year in Nigeria, according to the Guttmacher Institute and the Nigerian government. The dangerous abortions are the cheap ones.

She was fostering her nephew, a disheveled 6-year-old with piercing eyes. All around her, friends were raising children in the very environment into which she was unsure she wanted to bring a child.

Ibrahim spoke of her abortion only in tense whispers. "There are some pregnancies that happen by mistake. You have to abort them. But there are some that teach you a lesson," she said. "I don't want the abortion, but I don't have support for the baby."