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Firm decision needed on abortion, says Tufton

Published:Tuesday | October 23, 2018 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

With lawmakers failing for more than four decades to implement proposed changes to legislation that outlaws abortion in Jamaica, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has suggested that the hot-button issue now requires “urgent consideration” and “a firm decision”.

As a result, Tufton has proposed that legislators dust off a 10-year-old report commissioned by the health ministry and use it to chart the way forward.

The report by the Abortion Policy Review Advisory Group, a panel established by the ministry in 2005, was tabled in Parliament in January 2008. A special select committee of the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament was established to consider and report on the recommendations made by the group.

“A number of meetings took place and a report was, in fact, generated. The issue now is what happened after. Sad to say, Mr Speaker, nothing,” Tufton admitted in the House of Representatives yesterday.

Now he wants another joint select committee of both Houses of Parliament established to review the report again.

“Pull that report back from Hansard and wherever else it is, review the recommendations of that committee and if there is a need to add further work then we add further work in terms of consultations,” Tufton said during the debate on a motion moved by member of parliament for St Andrew West Rural, Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, to decriminalise abortion.

“I support the motion to the extent that the matter requires attention and firm decision and that’s the proposal at this time,” he added.


According to figures released by the health minister, 47 or four per cent of the 1,177 persons admitted at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in 2016 had complications from either a failed attempt or completed induced termination of pregnancy, “as disclosed by the patient.”

He acknowledged, however, that the ministry does not require women to reveal whether they have attempted to terminate a pregnancy.

“Documentation or reporting of induced abortions is, therefore, unreliable,” the health minister declared.

The first attempt to clarify the Government’s position on abortion came in 1975 when, according to Tufton, the health ministry established a ministerial policy paper, which proposed how registered medical practitioners could terminate a pregnancy.

The document, which was tabled in the House of Representatives in January that year, intended for the relevant sections of the Offences Against the Person Act to be amended to provide clarity “as to the circumstances in which abortions could be lawfully performed in Jamaica and to include rape, carnal abuse and incest as lawful grounds for abortion.”

The law was never amended.