Tyrone Reid, Enterprise Reporter
Due in large part to an alarming number of botched abortions taking place in the island, a Ministry of Health-commissioned report has recommended that current laws prohibiting the practice be repealed and replaced with legislation outlining conditions under which medical termination of pregnancy would be lawful.
A report to be tabled in Parliament by the Abortion Policy Review Advisory Group has revealed that botched abortions are burdening the public health sector as many women who suffer from the complications that arise after the bungled operations are unable to pay for the costly treatment they receive.
Hundreds seen in hospital
The investigation carried out by the advisory group revealed that, during a six-month period, hundreds of patients suffering from problems that resulted from slipshod abortions were admitted to a ward at one of the nation's premier public hospitals that deals exclusively with such medical emergencies.
At the hospital in question, admissions to one of its wards which deals exclusively with abortions and their complications, numbered 641 patients between March 1 and August 31, 2005 - a period of six months - the report revealed.
A draft of the advisory group's final report said all the patients at that hospital had inner-city addresses.
Mainly poor, young patients
Additionally, the advisory group pointed out that most of the patients admitted to the ward were "young, poor, unemployed and live in economically and socially deprived communities".
Despite, their bleak social and economic circumstances, the young women appeared quite knowledgeable about the abortion process, the group theorised.
"They are sufficiently well-informed to intervene in their pregnancies early, that is, before 12 weeks, and to choose to access a medically induced method, albeit on the black market," the report said.
While the figures give an indication of the number of illegal abortions being performed, the advisory group admitted that obtaining accurate statistics regarding the prevalence of the controversial practice and its resultant complications is difficult.
The difficulty, the group argued, is largely due to the country's restrictive and punitive laws that lead to people developing a tendency to conceal facts and veil intentions which could be considered illegal.
"As far as we can ascertain, the complications of unsafe abortions constitute the eighth leading cause of maternal deaths in Jamaica and the second in the adolescent age group."
The report also noted that three maternal deaths were recorded in the south-east health region during 2005.
A three-month audit at another public hospital showed that 54 more patients were admitted with a primary diagnosis of incomplete abortion.
"Based on the assumption that cases recorded as being septic or having heavy bleeding had been interfered with under unsafe conditions, 11 per cent can be said to have been so induced. This may well be an underestimate," read a section of the report.
The advisory group also pointed out that patients, out of a loyalty to the person(s) who 'helped' them, refuse to divulge names, or even admit to any interference because of the possibility of legal punishment both for themselves and for their 'helpers'.
Of 641 patients interviewed at the hospital, almost 250 of them admitted to having had a previous TOP (termination of pregnancy), while close to 200 of them had two or more previous abortions.