Thu | Feb 27, 2020

Mark Wignall | Juliet Cuthbert’s uphill fight on abortion

Published:Sunday | October 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM
File Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn is championing legislation to decriminalise abortion.

I was born in Jamaica in late 1950 at a time when illiteracy and ignorance were not greatly considered by the colonial authorities as major faults to be repaired. A person who had a stroke and unfortunately ended up with, say, a side of the face with fallen and useless muscles would be deemed to have had a 'duppy box'.

Someone with cancer had a 'growth', and the details of the growth, or what brought it about, were never discussed or disseminated to the general population. Older men who had parts of their lower intestines or excess fluid make their way into their testicles via a hernia were said to have 'bosun'. We didn't know exactly what it meant, but we saw the men and the pained life they were forced to endure.

Sex was something that adults did, and children who were genuinely seeking knowledge at that time were not expected to question an adult about sex or where babies came from.

"Yu mother went down to the banana walk and find you wrap up, and she carry yu home," was something I heard as a child when parents were trying to explain sex, conception, and childbirth.

My own parent told me that babies came "from the doctor". And, of course, Santa Claus lives at the North Pole.

Young women who became pregnant in their early teens were not seen as greatly problematic for the family unless they were seeking to rise to the level of middle-class pretensions.

In the rural areas, young girls had their children, their menfolk enjoyed lives as village rams, marriage was not a pressure point, and the family grew until parents grew old, children and grandchildren came, and all carried with them the ignorance of their past in greater measure than the elements that could liberate their minds.

The Christian religion, basically, saw 'original sin' as sexually based, something to which a weak and ever vulnerable Eve fell prey. At the behest of a fork-tongued snake. And it was the poor male, Adam, of the human species, who was ultimately tempted, trapped, and forever held, all throughout eternity in the power of the female of that species.

West Rural St Andrew MP Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, quite possibly operating along with political sleepers in her JLP who do not wish to be openly associated with any 'free up abortion' campaign, has touched a hot-button item that is likely to earn her more hate mail than rave reviews.


Men, you'll never own a woman's body


Religion is always that heavy hand used to dictate to its followers how the herd should live, the sanctions for living outside that understanding, and its need to live inside and dictate the brain activity of its flock.

Falling easily into that slot is its rules on abortion. As far as the male-dominated church is concerned, women are more fallen in nature than men, so it falls to men to make the best decisions for women, those poor, helpless, and hapless creatures.

On that basis, a human being exists at the very moment that sperm fuses with a female egg. And once that happens, according to the rules of the male-dominated church, the process must be continued all the way to childbirth, whether the woman wants to or not.

She was in her late teens and living with her strict father and docile mother. I was in my early 20s in the 1970s when she announced to me in hushed tones her pregnancy. "And I suppose that I am the prospective father?''I asked.

She said yes, and I accepted it. I told her that I was in love with another woman and did not want her to carry my child to term. She knew of that reality, but more than anything else, she also did not want to have a child at that time.

Unknown to her, I hated the word 'abortion', and I was still somehow caught up in the idea that an abortion was cosmically wrong.


Abortion cost $150 in early '70s


I was more the one with raw nerves exposed than she was as we had the doctor on a little road off Waltham Park Road check her out, confirm the pregnancy, show me the test results, and arrange the termination.

I gave her $200 and told her I would never see her again. It must have been a cruel moment for her then, but I was brash and thought that the situation demanded a tough decision. Without going into the details, I am glad I did it, and greatly pleased today at the positive trajectory of her life.

Saying that she had lost a constituent in her 20s in 2018 to a botched abortion, Cuthbert is trying to resuscitate her original motion tabled in the House in June.

"BE IT RESOLVED that this Honourable House consider the recommendations of the Abortion Policy Group, which was established to provide guidance to allow women the right to choose;

"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Honourable House take steps to repeal sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Persons Act and substitute therewith a civil law titled 'Termination of Pregnancy Act', as recommended by the Abortion Policy Review Group in 2007."


Many women do it but openly berate it


She had two cysts in her ovary - "one the size of a small grapefruit and the other the size of a June plum," the doctor told her in 1991.

"If you should go ahead and have this child, it is highly likely that some deformation in the womb is likely to take place. It could even affect your own life," the doctor told her.

She being a good Catholic, meaning she had a healthy sex life with her husband, once used birth-control pills, and, like the church's priests, she enjoyed cognac and an occasional cigarette, she went to 'Father' and told him, upfront and not in the hidden shadows of a confessional booth.

"God will guide you through this difficult time," he told her. "You cannot break this special law which borders on you murdering your own child. It is wrong."

She listened, left, lit up a cigarette, told her husband what they had long agreed on and proceeded to terminate the pregnancy.

It is not uncommon of me to venture inside an inner-city community and painfully listen to two women in a quarrel just two degrees from an open brawl. "Gwey! Yu caan walk past May Pen Cemetery because yu left whole heap a baby over deh and yu a hear dem a bawl.'

'Is all right. You can chat. Mi know weh you bury fi yu dozen yu kill." It is artfully wrapped in mass ignorance and seen as the worst sin that a woman can impose on her own body, and yet, it happens and many pretend that it doesn't.


What of the poor woman?


It sound clichÈd, I know, but the woman has four children, and the only fathers that are there are the new 'uncles' who have come upon the scene to add to the previous fathers missing in action.

She finds herself pregnant and is really not interested in hearing from anyone telling her that she should have been more careful. If she was living in the 1970s, the street prescription would have been two then well-known painkillers with two bottles of a soda-based beverage. Served hot and very definitely unrefrigerated.

If she can afford it now, to have it done by a trained professional (gynaecologist or obstetrician) or a GP, the fees can run from $18,000 to as far as her good name can take her.

If she is poor, she has to head to the grimy backstreets.

- Mark Wignall is a public-affairs and political commentator.

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