Churches must back off from abortion issue, says Reverend
Discussions on abortion should not be limited to religion and morality, and according to one man of the cloth, if the churches are not prepared to consider the social implications of the practice, they best take a back pew and leave the discussion solely to the policymakers.
Straight-talking Anglican cleric, the Reverend Sean Major-Campbell – while reinforcing his long-standing view that Christianity is only effective so far as its relevance to the lives of people – said church leaders who take a myopic approach on the abortion discussion are doing a disservice to Jamaican women.
“Something that a lot of persons are not aware of is that the position of abortion is not monolithic in Catholicism. St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas denied that the foetus in the early stages is a person,” argued Rev Major-Campbell, during the launch of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute’s (CAPRI’s) abortion study dubbed ‘Coming to Terms; The Social Cost of Abortion’ on Thursday.
“This is not to take a right or wrong position to the argument. It is just recognising that on these matters we really cannot depend on the quarrels that are taking place in religion and other spaces, and this is why it is important for Government to do the job,” he charged, urging a sense of dialogue and humility among church leaders, some of whom create “enemies” through arrogance and name-calling.
“When it comes to human-rights issues like access to abortion, it is a matter that the State needs to address. While we listen to the different arguments, we cannot be bogged down with the quarrels, and there is a lot of quarrels happening in the space of the church,” continued the Reverend, in response to church leaders like Bishop Alvin Bailey who have openly rebuked abortion and called on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to rein in loose talkers such as abortion advocate Juliet Cuthbert Flynn.
According to the study by CAPRI, some 22,000 pregnancies are aborted in Jamaica annually and it is the island’s most impoverished women who flock to unprofessional outlets to conduct the illegal act. It also reported that US$1.4 million annually is shouldered by Jamaican taxpayers for complications caused by unsafe abortions islandwide, which often leave psychological suffering in its wake. Still, abortion attracts a life imprisonment penalty with or without hard labour in Jamaica.
NO ACTION TOWARDS REFORM
The probe outlines a slew of abortion interventions from as far back as 1975, listing various recommendations by different administrations since then. It said, however, that while “medical practitioners and government officials alike have long accepted that the law is flawed and needs to be reformed ... No action towards legal reform followed due to strong opposition by religious institutions.”
Among those seeking abortion in the underworld are many impoverished teenagers and young adults, some of whom are concerned about the disruption in their schooling or employment, or about how they will care for existing children.
Additionally, according to CAPRI executives, Jamaica is among only a handful of countries worldwide that completely ban abortion.
The researchers further said if parental consent is necessary, as with teenagers, “This may delay young women’s abortion care, leading to riskier and more costly late-term abortion procedures, or even cause young women to resort to illegal or self-induced abortions in fear of parental reaction.”
The study also highlighted a lack of sex education among Jamaica’s teenagers, incorrect use of contraceptives, sexual and intimate-partner violence among the catalysts for abortion.
“One-third of women who have sex under the age of 15 report their first experience as being forced, noting that all instances of sex under 16 years old are outlawed,” researchers explained.
Dr Garth McDonald, senior medical officer at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston, explained that where there are unsafe abortions, there will inevitably be health implications and burdens on the healthcare system.
“The global evidence is clear that with a lack of access to safe abortions, the medical complications and all the other spin-offs, psychosocial effects which take place, especially for our teenage girls and impoverished women, are great to the society,” he said.
“It puts a woman in a position, especially in an era where there has been so much advancement in the movement of women and the greater role that women now play in our society, that women should be given the opportunity to have that choice; and for the State to provide for women who are unable to afford it.”
Among the recommendations put forward by CAPRI are:
- A secret conscience vote should be held in the Jamaican Parliament to repeal sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against The Person Act, which criminalise attempts to procure abortion.
- Minors should be able to access reproductive health services, including abortion, without parental involvement.
- Termination of pregnancy services should be publicly funded to ensure that the women who are most economically vulnerable have access to them, and bearing in mind that the public cost of complications of abortion and/or of unwanted children is exponentially greater.