Letter of the Day | Abortion debate shouldn’t be about morality
The Editor, Madam:
As a young, black, Caribbean woman from rural Jamaica, I write to you with much dismay. Jamaica’s ongoing abortion debate frankly feels like a debate we should’ve had in the late 1990s, and although some developed countries like the United States are somewhat still debating abortion’s place in the society, we have the opportunity to project Jamaica in a positive direction.
Undoubtedly, Jamaica suffers from immense Stockholm syndrome from its relationship with colonial jurisprudence. This is evident in our current legislative framework around buggery and other archaic laws, which the metropole mother Britannia herself has rejected since she recognises that her society continues to evolve.
An Evolving World
As Jamaicans, we must contend with the realities of the now. We are living in an increasingly evolving world that is partially characterised by massive investments in human capital and in the developed world, for example, we see implementation of progressive legislation which reflects this.
Conversely, in developing states like Jamaica, we are often faced with a reality where our society has been unable to keep up with the changing times and its changing demographic.
Interestingly, when making investments in human capital, many states and international developmental bodies have narrowed their focus on creating equitable societies around the world, particularly for women and girls. Globally, Sustainable Development Goals which mandate a developmental framework for developing countries like Jamaica, the United Nation has outlined that women should have access to universal sexual reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (Gender Equality-Goal 5) .
Consequently, Jamaica, in good conscience, must provide an environment for women’s development through the actioning of abortion legislation that outrightly protects and advances women’s health and autonomy. Many argue that these international development indexes are culturally insignificant and though that may be true in some cases, we must admit that women are significantly affected by the lack of abortion legislation that allows them to access safe abortions. As published in a Reuters 2019 article titled ‘Devout Jamaica debates green light for abortion after rape, incest’, Kate Campbell, tells the story of a young woman by the name Anna-Kay, aged 22, who got a backdoor abortion to save her university career and her right to preserve her mental sanity.
Many more stories like these can be found online. For example, a catalogue titled the Abortion Monologue by a local organisation enables women to share their abortion experiences. Capri’s latest published report on the “Social Cost of Abortions’ highlighted the vulnerabilities women face when they do not have access to safe abortions which translates into social costs such as the perpetuation of poverty, cost to public healthcare, and even social safety nets such as PATH. The point is, access to safe abortions is not a foreign concept as some may want it to appear, and women from all spheres of life in Jamaica are affected by it. Our very own Vision 2030 mandates that our development goals should foster a healthy and stable population as well as effective social protection and, undoubtedly, access to safe abortions should be considered a priority under these clearly outlined goals. Protecting women who are poor, who were sexually abused or those who experienced sexual violence and who want to express bodily autonomy shouldn’t be up for debate.
Sadly, there is still a debate on whether providing access to safe abortions is right for our society. Though, I myself, would love to refute many of the asinine positions taken by some of the church’s advocacy as it relates to rejecting access to safe abortions, we must not muddy the debate with distractions.
Legal Framework for Safe Abortions
Regionally, other societies like Barbados, in 1983 to be specific, before the start of the 21st century, provided a legal framework to access safe abortions for women. Just like Jamaica, Barbados is a nation that is fully invested in its religious sect. More recently, Argentina, which is a devout Catholic country, passed abortion legislation in December 2020, which allows abortions up to 14 weeks.
Essentially, the legal abortion arguments should not centre around idea that morally Jamaica is a Christian nation, but rather on women’s access to health and gender equity and the collective good of our society. After all, within a properly functioning democracy, we must separate the church and state promoting legislative policies that protect everyone and not just our individual morality.
Finally, in a country like Jamaica that suffers from high rates of gender-based violence where women are the victims, it is important that we enact progressive legislation which simultaneously protects women and advances the development of our society. We have to start today, because globally, we are lagging behind and quite frankly, Jamaica must step out of this social development vacuum we have adversely created. Our women deserve much more than a society that rejects and fears change considering our colonial past as an enslaved society.