As at present day; 2018, abortion is still illegal in Jamaica, the Act governing this is the Offences Against the Person Act of 1864; an act based the English Act of 1861; wherein, a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy was punishable by a life sentence; with or without hard labour. In 2017, Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom, challenged the law; via a rule-bill introduced by Member of Parliament (MP) Diana Johnson, to decriminalize abortion. It was successful by an arguably small margin of 30; 172 voting yes and 142 voting no. In recent times; in June 2018 to be exact, and on the Jamaican front, MP Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn called for a debate in Parliament that would speak to the legislation wherein abortion was criminalized on the island.
My take? Abortion is as old as father time, and it being criminalized, does nothing to stop it from being carried out, either on the sly by doctors, or informally by the pregnant women themselves. I recall about twenty five (25) years ago, while accompanying my mother to the University Hospital, AKA “UC,” there was a case wherein a “man” had molested his 12-year-old step-daughter and impregnated her. In an effort to hide the fact that he was molesting this poor, innocent child, and had even made it worse by making her pregnant, he was feeding her some seed, from some plant or other, so as to cause her to miscarry.
That nearly cost her, her life, and she had to be rushed to the hospital, as rather than aborting the child, the seeds were killing her slowly and painfully. The short of the story is that her stomach had to be pumped and the stepfather was arrested. I relayed that story to say this; the third leading cause of maternal deaths in Jamaica, is actually informal attempts of inducing miscarriages; unsafe abortions that women resort to because they do not have legal access to safe means of abortion.
While I will never be a champion for the use of abortion as “contraceptive,” and I am a strong proponent for preventative measures (contraceptive and other means of safe sex) rather than reactive measures (in particular, abortion), I am still of the opinion that a woman’s body is hers, and therefore, the final decision as to what she does with it, should also be her’s. As it stands in the local abortion policy, there are only three (3) legal grounds on which abortion is allowable: to save a woman’s life, to preserve physical health, and to preserve mental health. The grounds on which it is not allowed are; rape or incest, fetal impairment, economic or social reasons, and upon request. In addition, if an abortion is permitted on the grounds of rape or incest, fetal impairment, and mental health, then the spouses of the women wanting the abortion, have to give consent, and two (2) specialists also have to give their approval.
I am in total agreement that if a woman is having mental challenges, then she should get the “consent” of her spouse to be permitted to abort her baby, and I say “consent” as that word does not really sit well with me, even in this scenario; support is actually a word I would be a lot more comfortable with. I have often been asked if I am pro-life, and my answer, from as far back as I can remember, has always been this; the determination as to whether or not a woman wants to bring a pregnancy to completion, should be completely up to her, and no, I do not say this callously, with zero regards to unborn children, and again, I do deem it to be irresponsible of women to not to try to prevent pregnancy, but rather, use abortion to prevent themselves from having children. That said however, at the end of the day, I strongly believe that the final say with respect to bringing a child into the world, should rest with the one who bears the child.
I have been having the “to abort, or not to abort” argument for decades, both with men and women, some being adamant that nope, not even being raped or because of incest, should a woman be allowed to abort her child. However, as I put it to them then, I put it to you now, if I was ever raped, or impregnated by a family member, then as much as I love children, and believe in their rights when they are here, I cannot promise anyone that I would have been able to keep that child. In cases such as these, it should be filed under “for mental health reasons”, as the implications of bringing a child into this world under those circumstances are not something I think I could endure. I absolutely applaud and am in complete and utter awe of those women who are strong enough to keep a pregnancy under those circumstances, I hasten to add.
However, let’s be clear, albeit I stand by what I have aforementioned, I still would be a lot more comfortable with abortion being decriminalized, even if there are specified reasons, and it not being “willy’nilly”; especially once those reasons include rape or incest. The woman’s right to choose with respect to her personhood should be sacred, and not having to feel as if her last resort is to perform “home-made” abortions by jumping off from anywhere, or taking anything not prescribed by a doctor. The fact is this, illegal abortions are still being carried out by doctors, and more and more women are dying due to their decision to be their own doctors and terminate their own pregnancies. Like my opinion on giving teenagers condoms; the idea is that they are having sex, whether we want to admit it or not, so why not give them condoms to protect themselves from pregnancies and STDS then? (but this is for another article perhaps); but the analogy is that, it is the same way I am of the opinion that abortions are happening anyway, so while we fight to protect the life of unborn children, let us create a balance, and also fight for the lives of women who are alive and already here.
I can almost hear the outrage of those who will say that at least those women have a choice, but those poor unborn children do not. To that I say, I actually understand your line of argument. Notwithstanding, I still contend that a woman should be the one who determines what she does with her body, whether she is with child or not.