Liberia’s Swedish embassy has denied accusations of involvement in a bribery scandal involving attempts to change Liberian abortion laws.
According to several sources in Liberia, the government's attempt to ram abortion legislation through the Senate is severely corrupt. This corruption, it is alleged, includes bribing lawmakers in exchange for supportive votes.
Current abortion law in Liberia states that abortion is not permitted unless there is a risk to the woman's physical or mental health, in cases of rape, incest, foetal abnormality, or other specific circumstances. These circumstances must then be verified by two doctors.
The Public Health Bill, which would allow abortion on demand for any reason up to 14 weeks gestation, was approved by the Liberian House of Representatives in 2022. The Ministry of Health is urgently pushing for this bill to be passed by the Liberian Senate before President-elect Joseph Nyumah Boakai takes office in January.
Claims of foreign meddling have increased as the critical vote draws closer. For example, The Daily Observer claims that “the Swedish Embassy had made substantial financial contributions to senators in exchange for their support of legalising abortion under the guise of funding various development projects in Liberia.”
Stop Abortion Liberia, a site run by Bishop Kortu K. Brown (president of the Liberian Council of Churches) states that ‘The Swedish government and other NGOs have been creating and funding organisations in Liberia (particularly the Amplifying Rights Network) to lobby for the legalisation of abortion. Foreign government interference in the democratic process of Liberia is totally unacceptable and a form of colonialism you must reject.’
Chris Smith, a Congressman of the United States, responded to the attempt to enforce the legalisation of abortion on Liberians last week in a statement by saying “There is a powerful and well-funded global agenda that aggressively denies, devalues, and disrespects unborn baby girls and boys and trivialises the harm suffered by women who procure abortion on demand.”
He continued “We know that other countries are putting pressure on Liberia, and allegedly even paying your politicians bribes, to see 40,000 Liberian children a year killed. As others have said, your children are worth more than 30 pieces of silver.”
The Swedish ambassador, Urban Sjöström, responded to previous allegations of his involvement in the bribery and foreign meddling by telling the Daily Observer, “Yes, Sweden supports the decriminalisation of abortion, as recommended in WHO’s 2022 Abortion Care Guideline, which recommends the full decriminalisation of abortion.”
Sjöström, however, claims the allegations of bribery to Liberian senators as “completely false.” he stated “We do not give nor accept bribes”
An important source, who wished to remain anonymous for security concerns, also claimed that corruption has tainted the process, stating “Our sources at the Ministry of Health and the legislature confirm that 28 out of the 30 senators received bribes to the tune of $10,000 each to pass into law the abortion and sexual rights bill in the senate,” A senator who also asked to remain anonymous confirmed that he was aware of bribery occurring in the course of legislation.
In an attempt to pass the legislation by this Thursday, supporters of this abortion legislation have accelerated the voting schedule.