Sat | Jun 6, 2020

Garth Rattray | Some abortions are not criminalised

Published:Sunday | May 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The Gleaner, Ministry of Health, and the National Health Fund sponsored the Johnson Survey Research Limited poll on 'A Woman's Right to Choose'. Among other things, it found that "67 per cent of men and 82 per cent of women believe the Government has no place in determining if or when a woman ends her pregnancy". And, "76 per cent of men and 74 per cent of women are dead set against any change in the law to allow the termination of pregnancy just because the woman does not want a child".

In fact, the Offences Against the Person Act dates back to 1864 and does not permit any 'abortions' for any reason (like rape, incest, severe illness, uncorrectable major foetal malformations, life-threatening maternal illness or sure maternal death and subsequent foetal demise), by anyone, and at any stage of pregnancy.

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 tries to assist her, they could be imprisoned for life with or without hard labour. And the person supplying the means for an abortion could be imprisoned for up to three years with or without hard labour.

Public opinion polls on the subject of 'abortions' are interesting but purely moot since no pregnant woman or doctor can (legally) terminate a pregnancy for any reason, even if the pregnant female's life depends on it. This is so because The Offences Against the Person Act treats foetuses as if they are sentient beings from the moment of conception.

You may, therefore, wonder why it is that the recent killing of two children and their eight-month-pregnant mother isn't treated like a triple homicide. This is because in Jamaica, 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) a 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".


Our kids vs animal kids


The laws governing the rights and lives of foetuses are directly contradictory and have remained so since 1864! According to our laws, on the one hand, newly conceived and developing foetuses are so sacrosanct that a seriously ill woman must allow her own death (and that of the foetus) because the law never permits abortions.

And, on the other hand, according to our laws, until that same foetus is separated from its umbilical cord and breathes on its own, it is nothing. Therefore, any criminal can kill any foetus (directly or by killing its mother) milliseconds before delivery is complete and never be charged for any crime except harming or killing the mother.

Personally, I believe that the health and lives of women are more important than the foetuses that they carry, and our laws should reflect that. Additionally, our laws need to criminalise people who kill foetuses with malevolence. A doctor can be imprisoned with hard labour for terminating a pregnancy that will surely kill the pregnant female, but a criminal can kill a late-term foetus with no consequences.

Additionally, there should be compensation for the loss of pregnancies because of misadventure or accidents. If praedial larcenists slaughter a pregnant goat (for instance), they are held responsible for the loss of the developing kids within the womb. Why are human foetuses being treated as far less important than goat foetuses?

I do not agree with on-demand terminations, but health-related terminations should be permissible. Injury to the foetus through malevolence and/or carelessness should be criminalised.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and