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US seeks more information on Reuters report on Nigerian military secret abortion scheme

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A Reuters report that the Nigerian military ran a secret mass abortion program in its war on Boko Haram is “harrowing” and the United States is seeking more information, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday.

“My reaction to it in the first instance was a personal one in that I read it and was deeply disturbed by it,” he said. “It was a harrowing report. … It’s a concerning report and for that reason we are seeking further information,” he said.

Reuters was unable to establish who created the abortion program or determine who in the military or government ran it.

Nigerian military leaders denied the program has ever existed and said Reuters reporting was part of a foreign effort to undermine the country’s fight against the insurgents.

In the report, Reuters said since at least 2013, the Nigerian military has conducted a secret, systematic and illegal abortion programme in the country’s northeast, ending at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls, a Reuters investigation has found. Many had been kidnapped and raped by Islamist militants. Resisters were beaten, held at gunpoint or drugged into compliance, witnesses say.

Fati wondered if her life was over.

Nigerian soldiers surrounded the Lake Chad island village where Islamist insurgents held her and many other women captive. Shells exploded. Bullets whipped by. As her captors fled, Fati blacked out in terror.

READ ALSO: Nigeria posts N593 bln deficit in Aug as oil output declines

When she awoke in a military camp nearby, “I felt the happiest I ever had in my life,” said Fati, now in her early 20s, recalling the attack that occurred several years ago in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state. Over more than a year, she told Reuters, she had been forcibly married to insurgents, beaten and repeatedly raped – resulting in a recent pregnancy. Now, finally, she had been rescued. “I was extremely grateful to the soldiers,” she said.

About a week later, Fati said, she lay on a mat in a narrow, dim room at a military barracks in Maiduguri, the state capital. It was rank, with cockroaches skittering across the floor. Uniformed men came in and out, giving her and five other women mysterious injections and pills.

After about four hours, said Fati, who was about four months pregnant, she felt searing pain in her stomach and black blood seeped out of her. The other women were bleeding as well, and writhing on the floor. “The soldiers want to kill us,” she thought.

She recalled the injections, then understood: The soldiers had aborted their pregnancies without asking – or even telling – them.

After the women washed the blood down a squat toilet, she said, they were warned: “If you share this with anyone, you will be seriously beaten.”

Since at least 2013, the Nigerian Army has run a secret, systematic and illegal abortion programme in the country’s northeast, terminating at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls, many of whom had been kidnapped and raped by Islamist militants, according to dozens of witness accounts and documentation reviewed by Reuters.

The abortions mostly were carried out without the person’s consent – and often without their prior knowledge, according to the witness accounts. The women and girls ranged from a few weeks to eight months pregnant, and some were as young as 12 years old, interviews and records showed.

This investigation is based on interviews with 33 women and girls who say they underwent abortions while in the custody of the Nigerian Army. Just one said she freely gave consent. Reporters also interviewed five civilian healthcare workers and nine security personnel involved in the programme, including soldiers and other government employees such as armed guards engaged in escorting pregnant women to abortion sites. In addition, Reuters reviewed copies of military documents and civilian hospital records describing or tallying thousands of abortion procedures.

The existence of the army-run abortion programme hasn’t been previously reported. The campaign relied on deception and physical force against women who were kept in military custody for days or weeks. Three soldiers and a guard said they commonly assured women, who often were debilitated from captivity in the bush, that the pills and injections given to them were to restore their health and fight diseases such as malaria. In some instances, women who resisted were beaten, caned, held at gunpoint or drugged into compliance. Others were tied or pinned down, as abortion drugs were inserted inside them, said a guard and a health worker.

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