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The 'right' side of the abortion debate

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 23, 2018

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The perennial debate on abortion picked up pace this month with Lawyers Christian Fellowship Jamaica (LCF) announcing its 'A Time for Life' campaign, which it described as a decisive push back to the motion moved in Parliament in June this year by Member of Parliament for St Andrew West Rural Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn to decriminalise abortion.

In her presentation to the House of Representatives on June 5, Cuthbert-Flynn said:

“Be it resolved that this Honourable House considers the recommendations of the Abortion Policy Group, which was established to provide guidance to allow women the right to choose; and be it further resolved that the Parliament takes steps to repeal sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against The Person Act.”

The star athlete turned politician argued, some would say, progressively, appealing to legislators, telling them that they “have a moral obligation to ensure that women can enjoy their personhood without interference”.

But the LCF doesn't agree, declaring that abortion is not a private matter, but a social one that belongs in the public domain.

The policy brief of local affiliate to the LCF, Jamaica Coalition for Healthy Society (JCHS), presents what it said is the “right” side of this unending debate.

“The matter of abortion is not merely an issue concerning women; it is certainly not a private or individual concern and should not be viewed in the same light as other medical procedures with proven therapeutic benefit,” the brief states.

“Instead, abortion and the laws which govern it are a social issue and belong squarely in the public domain. The laws of any state serve to enforce and uphold or to change the prevailing culture. The highest duty of the law is the protection of life. The laws enacted now will impact the lives of citizens for future decades, including those yet to be born.”

Central to the LCF's position is its understanding of the nature of the unborn, asserting that life in the womb starts at conception, and that a foetus is as much a human being as any new born.

“The central basis of our position on abortion is the nature of the unborn child. It is a biological fact that at conception there exists a new, unique human being who, if left unharmed, will go through all the physiological stages of intrauterine development that are characteristic of human beings. The foetus is as much a human being as a newborn baby, in the same way that a newborn and an adolescent are human beings at different stages of development.

“The foetus changes form, not nature, during intrauterine life. Development is programmed along a certain physical pattern because of the kind of being which already exists, and it is the DNA of the foetus that orders and controls this development.

“Biology also provides clear and unequivocal evidence that the foetus is not only a living human being, but one that is unique and separate from his/her mother,” the group argues.

This separateness of the unborn foetus from its mother, along with its given nature, form the premise of perhaps the LCF's most considerable argument, which is its subsequent appeal to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), advancing that even the unborn has a fundamental right to life.

“Some persons who advocate for abortion under the mantra of 'human rights' attempt to dismiss the pro-life position as 'emotional'. However, if the woman next door was deliberately perpetrating violence against her newborn baby, no one could reasonably view that scenario dispassionately. Why should this be different for the baby who is younger by a couple of months or weeks?” LCF asks.

“In fact, when faced with violence against the innocent, it is the lack of emotion which would reflect negatively on individuals or the society.

“The right to life is the endowment of all human beings. The deliberate destruction of the unborn child is simply wrong. No society should ignore it. No government should facilitate it. It cannot be a human right.”

The LCF says it cannot be a woman's human right to abort a budding human being on a whim. However, pro-choice proponents raise instances of rape and incest, what are called 'hard cases'.

Among other questions that would arise is, should a mature woman, or an under-age girl be forced to keep a pregnancy borne through such violations?

Christian lawyer and member of the LCF, Shirley Richards, during a press briefing to launch the campaign earlier this month, advanced that women should be encouraged to report such crimes immediately after they happen, so that pregnancy can be prevented.

“The key is for women to be encouraged to report this crime, this terrible crime, as early as possible and then now, the doctors can do something about preventing conception,” Richards said.

Further to this, the JCHS, in its policy brief, said that special circumstances or “hard cases” make up a minority of requests for abortion.

“It is estimated that 2.8 per cent of cases are for threat to the mother's health and one per cent is related to rape or incest,” the group said.

“Even in the case of pregnancy due to sexual violation, the issue of the nature of the unborn must still be considered separately from the nature of the act that led to conception. Abortion is no remedy for rape. There is much more that can be done to protect and support our women and girls.

“Cases of rape or incest represent a savage violation and need to be managed specially in centres where all the needs of the victim can be met,” the group said.

Earlier this year, Dr Wendell Abel, head of The University of the West Indies (UWI) Department of Community Health and Psychiatry, said that high rates of maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions was a “major public health problem”.

“Unsafe abortion accounts for the third-leading cause of maternal death,” the Jamaica Observer reported Dr Abel as saying. However, the LCF and JCHS have raised a red flag on this assertion, advancing that making abortions legally available would not make an inherently unsafe procedure safe.

“Repeated attempts to legalise the unlawful act of killing unborn children have been justified by using statistics about maternal mortality and 'unsafe abortions'. The harm done to women who seek abortions is indeed a serious issue. However, it is a fallacy to claim that making abortions legal will make them safe,” the groups argue.

“The chief medical officer of the Victoria Jubilee Hospital has publicly stated that the persons doing abortions in Jamaica are medical doctors. Legalisation would simply increase the number of doctors who provide this service.

“The physical complications of bleeding, infection, infertility, and premature births in subsequent pregnancies are not erased by legalising abortion,” they add.

Further to physical risks, they argued that abortion has been shown to have negative effects on the mental health of women subsequent to the procedure, making reference to a 2008 statement by the Royal College of Psychiatrists UK that abortion may damage a woman's mental health, as studies have demonstrated a strong link between abortion and an array of psychological disorders, ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and even suicide.

In fact, they went further, “The largest ever meta-analysis of the effects of abortion on women, conducted in 2011, actually concluded that abortions increase the risk of developing mental health problems by 81 per cent.”

Analysts argue that there is no shortage of statistics on either side of this debate to throw around. However, what will perhaps prove more crucial in this debate, some experts have said, are the fundamental legislative instruments, namely the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, entrenched in Jamaica's constitution in 2011, and influenced by the UDHR, as well as the Child Care and Protection Act, influenced by the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The JCHS points out in its policy brief that the UN declaration on the rights of the child states that a child has the right to legal protection before, as well as after birth.

Currently, a joint select committee is reviewing issues covered under the Offences Against the Person Act.

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