Sat | Oct 16, 2021

Millions for illegal abortions - Taxpayers fork out US$1.4 million annually for thousands of abortion complications; poorest families suffer most, CAPRI study finds

Published:Sunday | January 31, 2021 | 8:57 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter
“Given that up to 43 per cent of the complications in early pregnancy may be due to attempted termination of pregnancy, the cost to the Jamaican public health system is large” - CAPRI
“Given that up to 43 per cent of the complications in early pregnancy may be due to attempted termination of pregnancy, the cost to the Jamaican public health system is large” - CAPRI
Dr Damien King, CAPRI’s executive director.
Dr Damien King, CAPRI’s executive director.
Juliet Cuthbert Flynn, minister of state in the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Juliet Cuthbert Flynn, minister of state in the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
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Some 22,000 pregnancies are aborted annually in Jamaica, and this is only a rough estimate from research done by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI), which believes that the figures for the clandestine, criminal acts could be more.

The data further revealed that Jamaican taxpayers fork out approximately US$1.4 million each year to fund the country’s healthcare system’s struggle with complications caused from unsafe abortions islandwide.

The study, dubbed ‘Coming to Terms, The Cost of Unequal Access to Safe Abortion in Jamaica’, will be officially launched this Thursday, and is the latest twig in a bonfire debate over whether Jamaica’s abortion laws should be amended to provide safer, legal options, especially for the island’s poorest women.

“There are no official figures for the number of abortions conducted in Jamaica each year, as most of these abortions are clandestine. The estimates vary between 10 and 37 per cent of all pregnancies annually,” read an excerpt of the study obtained by The Sunday Gleaner last week.

“Given that up to 43 per cent of the complications in early pregnancy may be due to attempted termination of pregnancy, the cost to the Jamaican public health system is large,” it said, adding that social stigma, psychological trauma, and home instability that often rise from the criminal practice are not reflected in the numbers.

“In addition to cost related to treatment of complications, disability or death due to abortion-related complications incur indirect costs to households and to society, and these may transfer through generations,” the study also noted, which CAPRI’s Executive Director Dr Damien King later told this newspaper was reflective of dozens of interviews conducted across the island.

“These costs are largely borne by Jamaica’s poorest and most vulnerable women, and their families. Women from the higher socio-economic quintiles are able to readily access safe abortions,” the study highlighted, noting that psychological strain on some mothers and their living children are immeasurable. Among those seeking abortion in the underworld are many teenagers and young adults dogged by concerns about poverty, the disruption of education or employment, the desire to provide for existing children, and in cases where expecting mothers are confused with no support from their unborn child’s father. Still others are seeking abortions because of family preferences, the findings outlined.

BURDEN ON THE STATE

The findings of the study are further ammunition for Member of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert Flynn, who has staunchly maintained her call for amendments to Jamaica’s antiquated abortion laws.

Cuthbert Flynn reignited the debate on abortion in 2018 when she tabled a motion in the House of Representatives for the government to relax abortion laws; and hopes that Jamaica will soon follow a landmark ruling in Argentina in December that legalised abortion in that country.

Hailed as a victory for women, Argentina’s Congress legalised abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy, with 38 senators voting in favour of the bill and 29 voting against, and one abstention.

“There will always be a need for women to have access to safe abortions in Jamaica, especially if we don’t amend our laws; and what this study shows is the burden on the State due to unsafe abortions, which is also of great importance,” Cuthbert Flynn expressed to The Sunday Gleaner.

“For a very long time we have been trying to amend the legislation and the study is now just reinforcing that we should, when you look at all the different laws being amended right across the world,” the MP said, recalling statements and promises from the Ministry of Health in 2005 regarding unsafe abortion risks to women’s health.

“There was an attempt at that time to amend the Offences Against the Person Act and to repeal sections 72 and 73. A policy review had started, there were some statements and recommendations given up to 2007/8 but nothing has come from that,” outlined Cuthbert Flynn, who is also minister of state in the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

“The poorer women are the ones who are most likely to have unintended pregnancies and many times they have no decision in their contraceptive use. So it is really important for us to look at this law.”

According to Section 72 of the Offences Against the Person Act: “Every woman, being with child, who with intent to procure her own miscarriage shall unlawfully administer to herself any poison or other noxious thing … to procure miscarriage … shall be guilty of a felony and being convicted thereof shall be liable to be imprisoned for life, with or without hard labour.”

ASSUME A MORE OPEN MIND

Cuthbert Flynn is hoping that with more studies like CAPRI’s, additional Jamaicans will assume a more open-minded stance on the issue.

Chief among them are various church leaders, like Bishop Alvin Bailey, who have openly rebuked such thoughts, calling on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to rein in loose talkers like Cuthbert Flynn.

“The legislation of abortion must be publicly condemned by the prime minister if he is to be seen as having any moral authority to speak to the ongoing senseless killing of innocent people in our society through acts of crime and violence,” said Bailey in a statement earlier this month.

He continued, “The pronouncements by Mrs Flynn in support of abortion has flown in the face of God and Christianity ... I call on the prime minister to renounce in Parliament any intention to further pursue the abortion agenda, but instead establish a joint select committee – comprising representatives of the church and other civil organisations – to look at ways to assist pregnant mothers through adoption or foster care.”

Pastor, the Reverend Dr Dylan Toussaint, has also called on Jamaicans to remember the rights of unborn children.

“As our nation again deliberates on the issue of abortion, along with the rights of others, let us remember the rights of the unborn child and thus keep his or her hope alive,” said Toussaint at the island’s National Leadership Prayer Breakfast earlier this month.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com