Tue | Sep 25, 2018

Mother up! - Most Jamaicans still opposed to abortion-on-demand and only want the law changed for special circumstances

Published:Sunday | May 13, 2018 | 12:00 AMArthur Hall
Disappointed and angry after seeing the result of a pregnancy test.

Jamaicans are starting to be more tolerant in many areas but the question of aborting on demand is still a no-no.

In a recently conducted all-island poll by the Johnson Survey Research Limited, the majority of respondents said the laws governing abortion should not be changed to allow women to terminate the pregnancy, if she got pregnant because the contraceptive failed (62%), because she believes she could not afford a child (71%) or worse, because she just doesn't want a child (75%).

The latest poll was conducted between April 27 and 29 islandwide, among 1,000 Jamaicans between the ages of 15 and 49, and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent.

The findings showed a slight hardening of the positions on abortion compared to when the Johnson team tested the pulse of the nation with a similar question in September 2014.

At that time, 69 per cent of 1,208 Jamaicans said the law should not be changed.

The Jamaican law now criminalises any attempt at an abortion, with women who attempt to terminate a pregnancy facing the possibility of life in prison, while persons who assist in the process can be imprisoned for up to three years.

But under the common law, abortion is allowed if, by doing so, it would save the life of the mother.

In recent years, several medical and human rights practitioners have been clamouring for changes to the law, with many pointing to the number of women who put a strain on the public health sector or die from unsafe abortions.

 

Botched abortions

 

A Sunday Gleaner probe last November revealed that between January and September of that year, of the 1,088 expectant mothers who presented to the Victoria Jubilee Hospital (VJH) with bleeding in early pregnancy, 91 admitted to having attempted to abort the foetus, while an additional 47 had complications that suggested that they had attempted abortions.

At that time, senior medical officer at the VJH Dr Orville Morgan told our news team that the number of aborted pregnancies could be much greater as a 2014 study found that 43 per cent of expectant mothers who were admitted with complications had attempted abortion.

Unsafe abortions have also been identified as the third leading cause of maternal death, with several local medical practitioners arguing that the law, as now on the books, discriminates against poorer women and puts their lives at risk.

But those opposed to any change in the law have rejected these arguments and have urged the Government not to make any adjustments.

"Repeated attempts to legalise the unlawful act of killing unborn children have been justified by using statistics about maternal mortality and 'unsafe abortions'.

"The harm done to women who seek abortions is indeed a serious issue. However, it is a fallacy to claim that making abortions legal will make them safe," argued Dr Doreen Brady-West, chair of the Ethics Committee, Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, and adviser to the Pregnancy Resource Centre of Jamaica in a letter to Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton last week.

"The right to life is the endowment of all human beings. The deliberate destruction of the unborn child is simply wrong. No society should ignore it. No government should facilitate it. It cannot be a human right," added Brady-West.

And she has the support of the majority of respondents in the just-concluded poll.

The poll found that 58 per cent of Jamaicans said no to changing the law if the child is likely to be born with a severe mental illness, while 36 per cent said yes.

If there is a serious danger to the life of the mother, 66 per cent of Jamaicans would want the law changed to allow an abortion, while 28 per cent said no change. In instances where the pregnancy is caused by rape, 58 per cent of Jamaicans would amend the law to make abortion legal.

It is almost a similar story in the case of incest, with 53 per cent of Jamaicans supporting amending the law to allow a legal abortion.

The Johnson Survey Research Limited poll on 'A Woman's Right to Choose' was sponsored by The Gleaner, the Ministry of Health, and the National Health Fund.

arthur.hall@gleanerjm.com