Wed | Jun 26, 2019

Editorial | Mrs Cuthbert-Flynn’s powerful argument for choice

Published:Sunday | April 14, 2019 | 12:31 AM

Jamaica, especially its women, owe Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn a debt of gratitude. The athlete-turned-politician not only put back on the national agenda the issue of reproductive health, but opened the possibility, if our male-dominated legislature can be persuaded to reason, of women assuming ownership of their bodies, which would be the effect of the legalisation on abortion.

But Mrs Cuthbert-Flynn has gone further, sharing her own story as a 19-year-old who had an abortion, thereby bringing balance to the attempts of the religious doctrinaires who, with tales of glorious miracles and presumptions of life and personhood at conception, would like to impose one-size-fits-all solutions to women, whatever their health conditions.

One such narrative on the mysteries of life and the possibilities of God was recounted to Parliament’s Human Resources and Social Development Committee, which is reviewing the abortion laws, by anti-abortion activist Carole Bridge. Mrs Bridge recounted her own pregnancy at a time when she had a brain tumour. Her doctors suggested an abortion, for fear that the drug that she would have to take would cause foetal abnormalities, or that she herself might go blind.

Mrs Bridge declined. “… Nine months later, I delivered a perfectly healthy baby girl,” she told legislators.

The undeclared intention of this heart-tugging evangelising was to embarrass, if not corral, other women who find themselves in similar circumstances, to accept the same risks. But there was Mrs Cuthbert-Flynn’s powerful intervention.

She, too, knew a woman who had a brain tumour, which wouldn’t shrink, who was pregnant and who faced the prospect of death. That woman chose to have an abortion. “…That person is me,” Mrs Cuthbert-Flynn said.

Added Mrs Cuthbert-Flynn: “I chose my life over something I wasn’t certain about.”

STEERED FROM THE BACK ALLEYS

And that is precisely the point – women ought to have the right to choice, within defined parameters, over what happens within their bodies, rather than having those decisions constrained by zealots, apparatchiks and commissars, whether of the State or religion, or a combination of the two.

Indeed, like Mrs Bridge and Mrs Cuthbert-Flynn, women are quite capable, with the help of health professionals, and, if they wish, family and friends, of making decisions of what is right for them and their reproductive health.

It is our assumption that as a budding athletics star, with the appropriate emotional and medical support, Mrs Cuthbert-Flynn could access, as well as afford, a safe abortion, as is the case with Jamaica’s uptown, middle-class and well-to-do women, despite the law that makes abortion illegal.

It is mainly poor, under-educated women who make up the bulk of the four per cent – and up to 15 per cent by some estimates – of women treated at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital for maternity complications, for which attempted abortion was the underlying cause.

Abortion should be steered from the back alleys. Which is why we insist that Parliament should, as a profoundly philosophical exercise, excise the matter of abortion from the Offence Against the Person Act, and create a Woman’s Right to Pregnancy Act that allows a woman, after appropriate counselling, the right of termination within the first three months of pregnancy and thereafter, if necessary, to preserve the life of the mother.