Wed, Feb 27, 2019 - Page 7 News List

FEATURE: Devout Jamaica wrangles with allowing abortion in cases involving rape, incest

CHANGING PUBLIC OPINION?Advocates are hopeful for change after polls found that most Jamaicans feel that women should have the final say on termination

Thomson Reuters Foundation, KINGSTON

Anna-Kay was 21 years old the first time she got pregnant, in her second year of university, and worried of the shame that would follow if she told her parents.

So Anna-Kay did what about 22,000 women in Jamaica do every year, according to government data, and broke the law. She sold her cellphone to get 20,000 Jamaican dollars (US$153) to pay for an abortion.

“I wasn’t in a position physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially to be pregnant. It was a very, very lonely time,” Anna-Kay said.

“It was a difficult decision for me,” said Anna-Kay, a now 30-year-old with a young son who asked that her real name not be used.

Having an abortion — or even talking about it with a doctor — is illegal in Jamaica, except to save a woman’s life or to preserve her mental and physical health, according to the country’s Offences Against the Persons Act.

Women can receive a life sentence for having an abortion — although this has never been enforced — and those who assist in the process can be jailed for up to three years.

However, legal discussions under way could change that, with growing acknowledgement that thousands of women do have abortions each year, endangering their lives with backstreet operations or drugs, or paying doctors who will take the risk.

The Abortion Policy Review commissioned by the government in 2007 — the most recent figures — found that unsafe abortions were the third-leading cause of maternal mortality among women in the nation of 2.9 million people.

A bill by lawmaker Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, of the majority Jamaica Labour Party, aims to decriminalize abortion by repealing sections of the law and replacing it with a new act that would allow for abortions in the case of rape or incest.

The Jamaican Parliament is this month to hear final submissions from the public, then the prime minister’s office is to decide next steps.

This is not the first time that the issue of decriminalizing abortion has been raised in Jamaica, where religion plays a major role in society and culture, but campaigners said they expected that the laws could be relaxed this time with opinion changing.

A survey last year by local firm Johnson Survey Research found that seven of every 10 Jamaicans opposed abortion on demand, but 67 percent of men and 82 percent of women thought that women, not the government, should have the final say on termination.

A separate poll last year found that 58 percent of Jamaicans supported amending the law to allow abortions following incest.

Women need to have safe options, especially poor women, who are disproportionately affected by the law, as they cannot afford to pay for a proper procedure, Cuthbert-Flynn said.

“There is a life sentence attached to [having an abortion], and those are punitive measures that definitely need to be repealed,” Cuthbert-Flynn told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I do know of women who have had illegal abortions, and one woman has died,” she said, while citing another example of a 15-year-old girl left disabled after an illegal abortion.

Joy Crawford, a director of Eve For Life, a non-governmental organization that works with women and children affected by HIV/AIDS, said that not only must the law be repealed, but it must ensure that women have the final choice.

There are many circumstances in which a woman might not be ready or able to carry out a pregnancy, including rape, incest and being too young, she said.

This story has been viewed 2412 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top