Sat | Oct 21, 2017

Mixed messages on abortions

Published:Monday | May 4, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Do you recall any of these stories?

- Murdered 14-year-old was pregnant ... adamant that the girl was killed as part of an attempt to cover up her pregnancy

- A woman who was seven months pregnant was killed

- Two pregnant women were among four persons killed by gunmen

- 14-year-old Kayalicia Simpson, the Donald Quarrie High School student who was hacked to death ... was pregnant

- Burnt body found along the Port Royal main road earlier last month ... was also pregnant when she was killed

- The identity of a pregnant woman who was brutally murdered ... has been revealed

- Allegedly shot and killed a pregnant Kay-Ann Lamont in Yallahs Square

- Fifth pregnant woman killed ... over the last two months

Under current Jamaican law, not one of those heinous murderers can be charged for killing the unborn offspring. They can only be charged for killing the female. It does not matter whether the murderer knew that she was pregnant or if she was killed because she was pregnant or if the foetus was old enough to survive outside of the womb.

No one who directly or indirectly, wilfully or accidentally causes the death of any unborn offspring can be charged with any kind of homicide (murder or manslaughter of any kind) of said unborn offspring.

The loss of the unborn offspring before 28 weeks is an abortion (a miscarriage - spontaneous abortion, a traumatic abortion or an induced abortion - pharmaceutically or surgically). The loss of an unborn offspring after 28 weeks is a stillbirth.

According to (which dates back to 1864), if a woman even suspects that she is pregnant and attempts to procure an abortion (with chemicals, instrumentation or by any other means) or if anyone else tries to do the same for any woman, they risk imprisonment for life with or without hard labour. Additionally, the person supplying the means for an abortion risks imprisonment up to three years with or without hard labour. In Jamaica, any attempt at aborting (terminating) any pregnancy at any stage and for any reason whatsoever is always illegal.

That means that by law, even if a married woman has been brutally gang-raped and becomes pregnant as a result of that act, she cannot (legally) terminate the pregnancy.

If a woman has a very serious medical condition that is likely to kill her or will certainly kill her if she carries the pregnancy, she cannot (legally) terminate the pregnancy to save her own life.

If a woman is pregnant with a severely malformed foetus, she cannot (legally) terminate the pregnancy. If a woman is severely mentally retarded or significantly mentally ill and becomes pregnant, she and no one else can (legally) terminate the pregnancy.

On the one hand, no woman or doctor can (legally) terminate a pregnancy for any reason, even if her life depends on it, because the foetus is treated like a sentient being from conception. Yet, on the other hand, any criminal can kill a pregnant woman and her foetus or kill her foetus alone and never be held responsible in any way for the demise of that foetus because (legally) that same foetus is not recognised as a potential human being or as a human being until the umbilical cord is severed and it breathes on its own as "a life in being".

Several foreign jurisdictions address this farce to varying degrees. I know that our former public defender, Earl Witter, and Opposition Spokesperson on Youth, Sports, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Culture, Olivia Grange, were pressing for a change in our laws so that anyone who kills a pregnant woman could possibly also be charged with killing her unborn child, but I have a feeling that the process has stalled indefinitely.

Whereas I certainly do not agree with terminating any pregnancy except in extremely grave circumstances involving the (physical and/or mental) health of the mother, I feel that we need to revisit the relevant sections of and address its flagrant inconsistencies.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.