Friday, February 29, 2008

Jamaica Debates on Legalizing Abortion -- Again

I’ve lost count of the number of times Jamaica has had major national discussions as to whether or not abortion should be legalized. Since the beginning of 2008, the issue is again a hot topic on the country’s agenda. Like all the times before this, the main arguments against legalizing abortion in Jamaica have been based on religious factors.

There is no need to rehash the basic issues of what abortion is for this article, however, the definition of what is considered a viable fetus continues to cause major dissention between those opting for legalization and those against.

The revival of the abortion debate was started recently when a report on abortion was tabled in the Jamaican Parliament. The report presented by the Abortion Policy Review Advisory Group stated that the public health sector was being adversely affected by the number of patients coming for care after ‘botched abortions’. The largest groups of women affected according to the report from the Abortion Policy Review Advisory Group were from poor, inner-city communities.

The committee that made up the APRAG recommended that some sections of the Offences Against the Person Act be repealed. Once done, it should be replaced by a civil law that would allow abortion under some circumstances. This law would be called the Termination of Pregnancy Act. This sounds reasonable, but since Jamaicans love to talk about being a religious country, the very thought of abortion raises the hackles of many.

The report revealed that 641 patients were treated at a Kingston hospital for complications associated with abortions during March 2005 and August 2005. Of this number, almost 200 said they had already had at least previous abortions. Two-fifty of the patients were coming in to deal with the complications of their first abortion. Frightening as these statistics are, they also need to be taken into context. For instance, it was pointed out as a footnote to the table included in the report that of this number, only 48 admitted that they had tried to abort the fetuses.

Advocates for abortion also note that unsafe abortions are the main cause of deaths among adolescents in Jamaica, and thus the eighth cause overall of all maternal deaths.

The Gleaner of January 18, 2008, had a letter from Dr. Doreen Brady-West, responding to another article of January 15, 2008. In her letter Dr. Brady-West stated that “If abortion is legalized, can infanticide be far behind? If financial strain, emotional stress, inconvenience, or anticipated physical/mental handicap justifies the killing of the unborn child, what moral authority can be used to prohibit the killing of an infant when similar situations arise? What your attention grabbing headline (referring to the January 15 article titled, “Rethinking Abortion – Advisory group wants current laws repealed – Botched jobs put strain on public purse” well illustrates is that induced abortion (the ultimate act of child abuse) not only kills babies, but also hurts women.” This is a strong argument put forward by some who are totally against legalization.

Interestingly, it is not only Jamaicans or rather persons living in Jamaica who have weighed in on the debate. Rev. Michael Friday from Nebraska had an article published in the Sunday Gleaner, February 24, 2008, saying that ‘careful, sensitive legislation was needed’ in the abortion debate. He was responding to another person’s view, namely, Peter Espeut, on the issue who said that “All this talk of abortion is about trying to avoid the consequences of irresponsible sexual intercourse.” Rev Friday challenged this argument on a number of fronts, citing examples of someone who contracted HIV through other means than sexual intercourse, whom is then raped and becomes pregnant.

While not advocating abortion, Rev Friday highlighted ways in which the need for abortion could be minimized. He said that “raising their (people) socioeconomic quality of life” would be a step in the right direction.

Dr. Wendel Abel, consultant psychiatrist at the University of the West Indies’ Community Health and Psychiatry department, has been giving his views on the issue of abortion during this current debate. Ultimately, Dr. Abel believes that “every woman should be given the choice to make a personal decision” when it concerns abortion the reason why she wants to have one.

One reason given against wanting abortion legalized, is that “abortion militates against the deeply held values of the nation”. While this sounds nice, taken against the backdrop of an almost nonchalant acceptance of infidelity, children growing up without a father or non-existent family structure, it seems more like pretty words than an actual fact. Sadly, Jamaicans, like people in other countries will say one thing in public and do the total opposite in private.

Sadly, many persons who are against abortion, are the same ones who on seeing a woman struggling to raise a horde of children, will wonder why she had so many. I have even heard solid, up-right Christians saying they will not give them anything because they are ‘careless’ to have so many children.

In the same breath, you have persons saying that children who are not wanted should not be aborted, but brought to term and then given up for adoption. Yet, many of these same persons will never adopt for various reasons. I for instance heard someone say she would never adopt because ‘she didn’t want anyone’s bad blood pickney giving her trouble.’

Like Jamaica’s stance on homosexuality and casino gambling, the abortion debate will continue to be played out for years. Political leaders will always be wary of going against the desires of the churches for fear of losing favor with the people who put them in power. However, there is strong reason to believe that this time there may be minor changes to the abortion laws, where women will be allowed to have the procedures in certain circumstances such as pregnancies resulting from rape.

Even if this was to happen, abortion is one of those issues that I doubt will ever go away. Everyone will have their say, even those who will never lift a finger to help.

-Jessica McCurdy Crooks


Anonymous said...

nice article, but i still dont know if it is legal or ilegal. i have certainly never heard of anyone being charged for abortion

Anonymous said...

women with a lot of children, is adequate grounds to legalize abortion? Arent these persons prone to have repeated aborting of their pregnancies? It will have long term effects on their body. Think on these things.

Anonymous said...

i agree...think of how much damage it will do to their bodies.... don't they love themselves...why add murder to their physical pain?

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