Tue | Jun 2, 2020

Michael Abrahams | Don’t force raped women to carry pregnancy

Published:Monday | May 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The results of an all-island poll titled 'A Woman's Right to Choose', conducted by Johnson Survey Research Limited, have recently been published, bringing the abortion debate to the forefront once again. Traditional and social media have been abuzz with people offering their opinions on the contentious issue.

I am pro-choice. This does not mean that I am pro-abortion. I do not like abortion and I do not encourage women to do it. But I firmly, resolutely and unapologetically embrace the ideology that a woman has a right to make an informed decision about her body, her quality of life and her future.

Last week, I encountered an article that disturbed me greatly. In it, while sharing his views, a Jamaican Roman Catholic deacon, Peter Espeut, opined: “Must women give birth to a child from a rape situation? I say that if she doesn't want the child, she should still have the child, then give it up for adoption." I consider his statement to be devoid of compassion, empathy or common sense, but likely driven by religious zeal and dogma. His comment is an example of the typical patriarchal trivialisation of the effects of rape on women.

What I would like people to understand is how rape affects a human being. First, rape is not just ‘a little sex’. Rape is an act of violence. It is assault, with the penis being used as a weapon. It is a cruel act that can negatively change the course of a person’s life. The possible sequelae of rape are well documented, and include physical trauma, the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, social stigmatisation, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sexual dysfunction, and suicide.

Then there is pregnancy. When some people speak of carrying a pregnancy to term and then giving the child up for adoption, they make it sound as simple as carrying a package to FedEx and leaving it there to be sent away. But pregnancy is way more complicated than that, and I wonder if these people have ever taken the time to sit and consider what it would be like to be raped and then carry and deliver the offspring of your assailant. For those who are interested, allow me to carry you through the process.

If a woman is to carry a pregnancy, she must receive antenatal care. This costs money. Usually at least a dozen antenatal visits are recommended during the course of a pregnancy. If these are private, it may cost quite a bit. If the woman is seen at a public clinic, the visits may be free, but she will still have to pay for ultrasound examinations, prenatal vitamins and certain other investigations, and all pregnant women will need to acquire clothes to accommodate their expanding abdomens.

A complicated pregnancy may require missing work for extended periods and place a woman at risk of losing her job. Pregnancy can also interrupt a girl or woman’s education, as there will inevitably be some disruption if she is at school or attending a tertiary level institution.

Even if a woman is wealthy and can afford all the above, pregnancy is a highly unpredictable process, associated with a plethora of discomforts and complications, such as nausea, vomiting, swollen hands and feet, abdominal discomfort, back pain, insomnia, constipation, haemorrhoids, mood swings, fatigue and short-term memory loss. Some women develop serious disorders that can be life-threatening, such as hypertension and placental complications, which can result in massive haemorrhage and death. Then there is labour, which can be prolonged, excruciatingly painful and may necessitateintervention via Caesarean section, which is major surgery, to facilitate a safe delivery.

In some situations, such as those associated with haemorrage, the woman may lose her uterus, and, along with that, her chance of ever having another child. If she does deliver the baby vaginally, vaginal trauma is always a possibility. Then there is the aftermath of delivery, where breast engorgement, pelvic cramps and other discomforts may occur. And long term, it is not uncommon for women to experience chronic back pain and urinary dysfunction even after uncomplicated pregnancies. Some women never recover physically or emotionally from their pregnancies.

Now, imagine a traumatised woman, in the aftermath of a rape, having to go through this process. Only an ignoramus would insist that a woman who has been violated in this manner endure such torture. It is an asinine and cruel prescription.

Then, there is the future of the child involved. Some women may independently choose to carry a child who is a product of rape and have a successful outcome. However, not everyone is able to manage this, and no woman should ever be coerced into doing it. It is not fair to her or the child. I know a woman who is the product of rape. Her mother carried and delivered her but hates her and abused her throughout her childhood. She is now an adult but suffers from chronic depression and has been suicidal on several occasions.

A woman who has been raped does not need a constant reminder of her trauma. People, especially men, who have no clue what it is like to be pregnant, who advocate this, need to leave women alone and allow them to make informed decisions about what is best for them.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.