By Garth A. Rattray
The recent and very spirited discussion on Cliff Hughes' 'Impact' surrounding abortion, represented what we already know: there is no consensus or middle ground on that topic in Jamaica.
It was brought out that the arguments for abortion were often "couched in sad stories" and the question regarding when 'life' begins was raised.
Do we draw the line for preventing unwanted births at conception or preconception (as the Roman Catholics do when they disallow contraception devices and chemicals)? Do we guess at when sentience is achieved and draw the line there (wherever that is)?
Some say that no termination is justified, but others argue that the rights of the pregnant female trump the 'rights' of a foetus (scientifically labelled an 'obligatory parasite').
Our laws protecting the foetus are blatantly dichotomous. Foetuses are so protected that The Offences Against the Person Act (which dates back to 1864) stipulates that the sentence of death is not to be passed on pregnant women. Also, if a woman even thinks that she is pregnant and attempts to procure an abortion (with chemicals, instrumentation or by any other means), or if anyone else tries to do the same for any woman, they risk imprisonment for life with or without hard labour.
Additionally, the person supplying the means for an abortion risks imprisonment of up to three years with or without hard labour. There is no legal leeway or any mitigating circumstances. Attempts at abortion are always illegal.
Because of my personal beliefs, I have never performed an abortion. I emphatically discourage them, but I can envision circumstances under which a female would want one. If she is raped (statutorily or otherwise) by one or many men; suffers violent invasion of her private orifice(s) and is forced to perform unspeakable acts on the degenerate(s) ... if she becomes impregnated, should she be forced to keep the product of that interminable nightmare growing inside her for 40 weeks and deliver (which is an extremely painful and variably risky event)?
What if she is severely hypertensive or otherwise physically unfit to carry a foetus to term? Pregnancy, under those circumstances, would seriously endanger or end her life (and, therefore, terminate the foetus as well).
Must such a female be forced to forfeit her life?
And what about the severely mentally ill or extremely mentally handicapped? Must they carry pregnancies to term? What if the foetus has physical malformations incompatible with life or without any hope of mental development? Must that woman also be forced to carry that pregnancy to term?
Yet, according to our laws, if a pregnant woman is killed (by murder, manslaughter or misadventure), even if she is obviously pregnant, the foetus is NOT recognised as a human being (and, therefore, has no legal rights whatsoever) until the umbilical cord is severed and it breathes on its own as an 'independent life'. Therefore, anyone who murders a pregnant woman (even at term) can only be held responsible for the life of the woman.
Other jurisdictions have addressed this farce. I hear that we are remotely considering a law to only punish those who specifically and maliciously attempt to or succeed in killing a foetus. In my opinion, that is inadequate.
Many influential and vociferous religious and pseudo-moralistic oppositionists secretly procure abortions for their wives, 'maties', daughters or girlfriends of their sons for purely social reasons. Many argue under a cloud of ignorance. It's time that we open-mindedly address the legislation as it relates to the rights of a pregnant woman versus the rights of the foetus that she carries.
We must enact laws to protect the foetus from criminal or careless acts, but we should also allow pregnant females the choice to protect themselves from (physical or psychological) harm under specified circumstances.
Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.