Nigeria has the second highest burden of maternal mortality in the world-- 40,000 women died in pregnancy, childbirth and its aftermath in 2010, according to the World Health Organization. In Lagos, the bustling commercial capitol, 51 percent of deaths during pregnancy were related to abortion, according to the Campaign Against Unwanted Pregnancy, a local research organization.

Debates around contraception and abortion are fierce. Global health experts and international donors have pressured the country to invest in family planning programs. But religious leaders from the Muslim and Christian population have pushed back against government reproductive health programs.

In Lagos, religious and cultural taboos make abortion a whispered word. But below the surface, providers from across the health care spectrum, from herbalists to undertrained doctors to professional gynecologists quietly and regularly perform abortions. The safety and efficacy range widely, with the vulnerable young women in Lagos' poorer neighborhoods facing the most dangerous procedures.

With limited access to family planning, one third of Nigerian women have experienced an unwanted pregnancy and many turn to illegal abortions. Fifty-five percent of women getting abortions are under 25, and 63 percent are unmarried.

As donor money pours in, as norms around sex shift and the population surges, this project explores the nuanced social factors impacting women’s health and survival in Lagos.

Allison Shelley's picture
Grantee
Allison Shelley is an independent documentary photographer and multimedia creator. She is co-director of the 250-member non-profit Women Photojournalists of Washington and adjunct faculty in the New...
Allyn Gaestel's picture
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Allyn is an international freelance writer whose work has been published by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, Al Jazeera, Reuters, The Atlantic, The...