Thu | May 23, 2019

Casual murders - Inconvenient pregnancies account for 95% of abortions in Ja, says doctor

Published:Thursday | January 31, 2019 | 12:29 AMLivern Barrett
Anti-abortion campaigners, with members of the clergy amon their ranks, march to Gordon House yesterday to protest against the legalisation of abortion.

A respected medical doctor, citing local and international experts, has estimated that between 6,000 and 22,000 abortions are performed in Jamaica each year and warned lawmakers that those numbers could soar with “attendant consequences” if they opt to legalise the procedure.

Further, general surgeon Dr Charles Royes has asserted that “inconvenient pregnancies” account for 95 per cent of all abortions islandwide.

“These are pregnancies where persons have engaged in sexual activity, with or without contraception, and an unexpected or inconvenient pregnancy has resulted,” he explained.

Rape, incest, foetal abnormality, and risk to the mother’s life account for the remaining five per cent.

Royes was making submissions before a parliamentary committee, which began holding public hearings yesterday on a motion moved by West Rural St Andrew Member of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn calling for the legalisation of abortion in Jamaica.

He cautioned that such a move “would mean that our society and our culture embrace into its heart and soul, into its psyche, the taking of innocent human life if and when it seems necessary based on convenience.

“And it could open the doors, as it has in other jurisdictions, for abortions to be practised in extreme ways, which we decry today, but which we, surprisingly, might find ourselves becoming accustomed to tomorrow,” he cautioned.

Royes, in his submissions before the Human Resource and Social Development Committee of Parliament, said that legalising abortions, as contemplated in a proposed bill that was drafted nearly a decade ago, would also place a strain on the health sector.

However, chairman of the committee, Ronald Thwaites, explained that the proposed bill “was a draft that was never, in fact, presented to the House of Representatives”.

According to Thwaites, the proposed bill was drafted after the issue was last discussed by lawmakers in 2008.

Royes, seeking to shed some light on the prevalence of abortions locally, revealed that the United States-based Guttmacher Institute has estimated that 37 per cent of all pregnancies in the Caribbean end up in an abortion.

“If that rate was applicable to Jamaica, we would be looking at something like 22,000 abortions per year,” he posited.

He noted, however, that a senior official at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston has estimated that just over 10 per cent of all pregnancies in Jamaica end up in abortion. “If we use the 10 per cent figure, then we are looking at about 6,000 abortions per year in our island,” the general surgeon said.

Available data on abortions in Jamaica are based on estimates and not accurate numbers, he cautioned.

“But whether it is 10 per cent or 37 per cent, whether 6,000 or 22,000, whether 120 a week or 450 a week, I think we can agree the number is quite large,” Royes insisted.

He noted that the message is often conveyed that the continued criminalisation of abortion is preventing many women from having safe abortions and forcing them to seek what he described as “backstreet” procedures, which result in “serious complications and even death”.

“It is now well known to our women that they can easily obtain what is called the abortion tablet or the abortion pill … on our streets. It is on sale in the Coronation Market, it is on sale on Princess Street, and even as I have determined, in some pharmacies,” he said.

“The cost is between $2,500 and $5,000, and you only need two,” he added.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com