Sun | Mar 24, 2019

Jaevion Nelson | The time has come to make access to abortion services legal

Published:Saturday | February 2, 2019 | 12:12 AM

The abortion debate in Jamaica is as old as time but there has barely been any positive action to provide women with access to safe, legal and affordable services to terminate pregnancies. Instead, we pussyfoot with our obligations and responsibilities. We pretend abortion services aren’t needed and shouldn’t be allowed and carry on as if a handful of liberal minded Jamaicans are trying to take the country down a path of destruction.

If we are to be honest with ourselves, we would agree that everyone knows or knows of someone in their community who has had an abortion. We know that many of these have been botched and result in serious complications to the woman because they accessed unsafe services from individuals who are not adequately trained to perform an abortion.

We all grow up with these stories as children but for some strange reason, we continue to be oblivious to the need to ensure there are services for the termination of pregnancies in a safe and regulated facility.

The questions we must ask ourselves are:

- Why we are nowhere closer to repealing the prohibition of abortion, though some legislators and advocates have clearly recognized the need for safe, affordable and legal abortion services since the 1970s?

- Who or what is it that is hindering us from moving forward?

- What needs to happen for our legislators to be bold and transformative and therefore act on the recommendations provided by the Abortion Policy Review Group that was set up in 2005?

- Will the men in Parliament stand with Dayton Campbell and Christopher Tufton and be bold for change for our women? Or will they continue to pander to the nonsense from the religious right?

- Will the handful of women in our parliament stand with Juliet Cuthbert Flynn and Lisa Hanna by showering them with support and demand that abortion be made legal?

- Will the advisors and close supporters of our parliamentarians encourage them to stand for change?

- What will it take for us to move forward?

TOO MANY DEATHS

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that every year, 22,000 Jamaican women have an abortion and unsafe abortion is noted as one of the five leading causes of maternal death in Jamaica. At the Victoria Jubilee Hospital, there is a ward dedicated to treating women and teenage girls who present with complications from unsafe abortions.

Sadly, the stigma and discrimination cause many women to not seek medical assistance when the complications from unsafe abortions arise. Consequently, in 2008, according to a study conducted by McCaw-Binns, et al, it was found that one in three such deaths occurred at home. Between 2013 and 2015, 21.4 per cent of abortion deaths were in the home, compared to 10 per cent between 1998 and 2000.

Sadly, because of the illegality of such services, many women are forced to do this at home – using their own concoctions like Pepsi with rusty nail or phensic (as rumoured), with hangers or in unsafe and unregulated facilities.

Quite frankly, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that regulated services are needed to ensure that the thousands of women who need and procure abortion services each year do not put themselves at risk.

It’s tragic that we are so oblivious about the ways in which our inaction cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year because of our unwillingness to provide safe, affordable, and legal services for the termination of pregnancies that is accessible.

The time has come for us to make access to abortion services legal. There is more than enough guidance and best practice about how we should proceed. The Abortion Policy Review Group presented these recommendations.

Women want abortion services and will seek it out, regardless of its illegality, their relationship status, or income. Let’s push to be responsible, to be bold and transformative, and to take positive steps towards allowing women to terminate pregnancies if and when they choose to, regardless of the reason for wanting to do so.

 

- Jaevion Nelson is a human rights, social and economic justice advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com or tweet @jaevionn.