Thu | Dec 9, 2021

This holy period, let us overcome our mental slavery

Published:Tuesday | March 30, 2021 | 12:58 AM


A dear friend shared her Rabbi’s Passover message with me. It began with Eckhart Tolle and ended with Bob Marley. “What a liberation to realise that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am.” And “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds … .”

Passover is all about reflection on the meaning of liberation. I wonder what that means for us?

Almost 60 years into our ‘Independence’ we cling to laws that our former colonial masters rejected just a few years after happily granting us our independence.

In the United Kingdom, in 1858, the registration of doctors specifically excluded women. That was the world of crushing gender bias in which, just three years later, they wrote the abortion law that we followed to this day.

That we still cling to that archaic law must be the epitome of our mental slavery. We are the agents of our own imprisonment. “None but ourselves can free our minds.”

I struggle to understand our inertia. Almost 50 years ago, CARICOM ministers of health promised to review their laws of abortion. Not until 1983 did Barbados act, then Guyana in 1995, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize and St Lucia have expanded the exceptions but retained the shell of the criminal code.

In 1975, Minister of Health Dr Kenneth McNeill tried to persuade his Cabinet to change the law. No go. So, in 1976 he courageously set up the Glen Vincent Clinic on Eureka Road.

That clinic just about eliminated admissions for complications of abortion at Victoria Jubilee Hospital. The abortion ward disappeared. But then the clinic’s abortion services closed in the mid-90s. For that short while, poor women had a break. Since then, we have had advisory boards and parliamentary committees but no movement. All talk and no action.

I suspect that we are victims of our own minds – our own fabrication of stigma, our own fear, our own sense of caution, our own difficulty in speaking up.

Martin Luther King Jr said it ever so well. “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

What would it take for many, many more persons, men and women, of good conscience to speak up? Our abortion law persists today simply because it is irrelevant to families with the means to obtain safe abortions.

It persists because those with the power to change it have no need to change it. And because those who need to change it have no power to change it.

Now, in this especially holy period, we must resolve to triumph over our mental slavery and find the courage to act in service of fairness and justice.


Silver Spring, Maryland