Wed | Mar 21, 2018

Peter Espeut | Pregnancy is not disease

Published:Friday | November 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Nowadays, talk of abortion falls under the heading of 'sexual and reproductive health', as if pregnancy is a disease to be cured, or a tumour to be excised. On the contrary, pregnancy is a sign that a woman's body is in working order - a sign of good sexual and reproductive health.

Women (and men) often seek abortions because of an inconvenient pregnancy and only rarely because of health issues. The effort to brand abortion as a routine 'remedy' for pregnancy is but one of the propaganda tools employed by those with a libertarian agenda who seek to assist persons to avoid the consequences of, and responsibility for, theirsexual actions.

On Monday, November 7, The Gleaner published an editorial titled 'Time to legalise abortion' laced with fallacies and flawed logic - libertarian propaganda which I cannot allow to go unchallenged.

"As this newspaper has argued before," read the editorial, "it shouldn't be anyone's business if a woman decides to end a pregnancy, if the procedure is done by qualified health professionals; that the termination happens within a defined time frame established on the basis of safety and scientific evidence related to when a foetus is viable; and once the woman has received counselling."

And so abortion is presented, not as the taking of human life, but as a decision "to end a pregnancy". The editor well knows that the morality or immorality of abortion rests on the question of when human life begins, for he writes: "The fundamentalists will make loud, unscientific claims of life-at-conception and of the personhood of the foetus and try to conflate religious morality with obligations of a secular state."

The editor, seemingly, has resolved this question to his satisfaction, for he believes that the foetus becomes a human being only when it is viable, when it could live on its own outside the womb; until then, it is to be considered non-human - without the right to life - and may be killed if the mother chooses.

The scientific claim is that the foetus is human life because each cell contains 46 chromosomes from the moment of conception, the same number in your cells and mine. The editor's loud, unscientific claim that life begins at viability is devoid of logic. Even after a baby is born, it cannot survive on its own, and must depend on its mother for the food and other necessities it received from her while in the womb.

If this viability argument is valid, it opens the door to euthanasia, for patients on life support would have no right to life; nor do the severely handicapped, nor the aged who cannot look after themselves. The editor's loud, unscientific claim that life begins at viability is to be rejected because it cannot stand up to scrutiny.

Doubt is further cast on the editor's scientific literacy by the following:

"The laws that govern reproductive health don't serve women well, not least for the fact they impinge on the right of women to control their own bodies ... . As it is now, the law removes from all women the right and freedom of choice and the fundamental right to their own bodies."




A foetus may be located within the woman's body, but it is not part of it; the blood of the mother and the baby do not mix at any point (they may, in fact, be incompatible), and the child has different DNA from both parents. If a woman has a right over her own body, that does not include the foetus growing inside her, which is not part of her body. The editor's attempt at morality by sloganeering is naive and unscientific.

And now for the editor's most naive and trite statement:

"It would be an easily winnable bet, we believe, that most of the women who found themselves at Victoria Jubilee with abortion-related complications are from the lower socio-economic strata."

Surely, the editor must know that almost all the women (and men) who turn up at the KPH or Jubilee for any disease or complication "are from the lower socio-economic strata". Yet the editor uses this fact to argue that Jamaica's anti-abortion laws are discriminatory. The editor argues:

"For, while abortion is illegal, it is largely accessible in a safe environment to well-educated middle - and upper-class women who can afford to pay health professionals. They are unlikely to end up at Victoria Jubilee."

The Gleaner editor accuses the private-health sector of providing safe illegal abortions uptown for the well-to-do, and argues that, therefore, the poor should be allowed to get safe legal ones downtown.

In Jamaica, our discourse often lacks clear and critical thinking. I expect better of the editor of The Gleaner.

- The Rev Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to