18 Aug 2004

Samoan health official defends abortion conviction

1:39 pm on 18 August 2004

A Samoan government health official is defending the handing out of a prison term for a mother who was found guilty of carrying out an abortion on another woman.

Thirty-four-year-old Akalita Apelu, a nurse, has been found guilty and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for performing the abortion.

Abortion is illegal in Samoa except under rare medical and other circumstances when it needs special court approval.

The case is the first involving abortion to have come before the courts in Samoa and has attracted much media attention, largely for religious reasons.

The Supreme Court heard that Apelu, a mother of four, admitted carrying out the abortion, for which she received 18 US dollars, but said she was pressured into it.

Chief Justice Patu Tiavaasue Falefatu said the case had shown there was a clear need for an abortion service because of the number of women who wanted it.

But the director of clinical health services for the Samoan Health Ministry, Dr Stanley Dean, says the woman acted illegally and got just punishment.

"I think that is the law at the moment so, the charges ... nobody is above the law. If that is the law I think she should know the charge. I think people will accept that sort of charge if it's according to what we have [legally] at the moment, until such time as there will be a review of the law and people have a better voice from women themselves ... but I'm quite sure that there will be a lot of opposition and things like that."

Dr Dean says he believes some Samoan women go to New Zealand for abortions that they cannot get at home.

However, he says there are no figures on the number of abortions being carried out on any basis in Samoa.