Letter of Day | No referendum on abortion
THE EDITOR, Madam:
We have been here before. We were here in 1975 when Health Minister Kenneth McNeill, after his recognition of the high mortality rate of Jamaican mothers and the increase in complications as a result of unsafe abortion practices, placed the need for amendments to the 1865 Act to allow for abortions in special circumstances (cases on incest, statutory rape, and carnal abuse).
We were here in 2007, when Minister Horace Dalley commissioned the Abortion Policy Review Group to engage research about the landscape of abortion in Jamaica and they presented a document with recommendations on a potential way forward. We were here in 2018 and 2019, when MP Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn put forth a motion to repeal the sections of the Offences Against the Person Act that makes abortions illegal and replace it with civil law, Termination of Pregnancy Act.
In the length of time that the conversation and inaction on the issue of abortion have been in suspension, thousands of Jamaicans would have had abortions – whether through safer means or clandestine avenues. A portion of those persons would have either suffered complications or, unfortunately, lost their lives. Here we are in 2021 with our Government faltering and cowering. MP Cuthbert-Flynn has acquiesced and resigned to a referendum as a solution. So we ask the question, are referenda effective or useful in responding to major issues such as abortions?
Our simplest response, no. Referenda are a lazy and unimaginative political mechanism wielded by governments to absolve themselves of any potential blame and to shirk the responsibility given to them to ensure the best quality of life for all citizens. Referenda have been seen as an ideal democratic process that allows members of a society direct control over the happenings of their country. However, the inherent problem of a referendum is that, more often than not, the whole is rarely ever representative of the most marginalised, most under-represented, most vulnerable. Throughout this debate and its several iterations, one fundamental piece has been missing from the crossfires: a true concern for the people who are most in need of safe abortions. If the Government of Jamaica truly cares about its citizenry and the faith that they have bestowed upon them through their votes, it will ensure that abortion is decriminalised, that accurate information is made available in the public domain, and that every person has affordable and safe access.
It is time.