IN late 2018, Member of Parliament for West Rural St Andrew Juliet Cuthbert Flynn moved a private member's motion in the House of Representatives to repeal sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Persons Act, which make abortion illegal. Since the motion various groups have appeared in support of, or against the motion, which is still being heard.
Abortion is the intentional termination of a pregnancy. They are done for both medical and non-medical reasons — for example, if carrying a pregnancy is harmful or threatens the life of the mother, then in Jamaica the woman can have a legal medical/surgical termination of the pregnancy.
Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, one thing that is certain in light of these discussions is that like in any other jurisdiction where there is an abortion debate, we are been bombarded with information that is passed off as abortion facts. Are you unsure of what's scientifically possible and what's not? Below Medical Internist Dr Samantha Nicholson-Spence deconstructs some of the popular beliefs and utterances on abortion.
Having an abortion increases your chances of developing breast cancer
FACT:“Abortion does NOT increase the risk of breast cancer. Getting pregnant, keeping it and breastfeeding, as well as having children in general, are linked to a reduction in the possibility of developing breast cancer,” Dr Nicholson-Spence said. She acknowledged, however, that being a mother does not make a woman immune to developing breast cancer as many women with children still get it.
Having an abortion will make it difficult for you to get pregnant in future
FACT: “There is no truth to the statement that having a safe abortion will make it difficult to get pregnant in the future. There is, however, a small risk of becoming infertile, but only if you develop a complication during the procedure, which is very rare,” Dr Nicholson-Spence said.
She explained that a woman may lose her ability to carry a child, for example, if the uterus is perforated or if there is massive bleeding during the procedure and a hysterectomy has to be done. Another complication of the procedure is that it can lead to scarring, so if there is scar tissue (cobweb like) developing in the uterus, that impedes implantation.
“These complications might prevent a woman from carrying a child herself, but she still make eggs, so if a woman decides she can have a surrogate carry her children,” Dr Nicholson-Spence advised.
The embryo or foetus feels pain during an abortion
FACT:“I don't think that anyone with certainty can say that the embryo or foetus feels any pain during the procedure. The understanding of the pain that we have is that you need to have a nervous system intact in order to feel pain — an intact brain for example,” Dr Nicholson-Spence explained.
The medical internist said that it is unclear at what point exactly pain is felt, but this does not mean that because a nine week old foetus cannot cry that it cannot feel pain.
Abortion leads to depression and mental health issues
FACT: Abortion is different things to different people, but the culture in which you live can significantly influence the way that you feel. However, Dr Nicholson said that you don't often see depression or other mental health issues in people who have had abortions.
“Women pretty much continue to lead their lives as they usually would. In some cases, the woman experiences some amount of grief or sadness, but that is normal and the feelings don't usually get more intense than this,” she explained.
On the contrary, carrying an unwanted pregnancy and having an unwanted child can wreak havoc on your mental health.
“Most women who seek an abortion, it's often because they are at a point in their lives where they are incapable of taking care of a child, or because they are at a transitional place in their lives or career, or are victims of rape, and so the issues of carrying a pregnancy around a depressing situation can lead to depression, so most women who seek abortions actually feel relieved afterwards,” Dr Nicholson-Spence explained.
Medical abortions can be reversed
FACT: Medical abortions cannot be reversed. However, they can fail. Dr Nicholson-Spence said that this means you will get the medication, but the foetus is not aborted. In this case, a surgical abortion is recommended.
A first trimester foetus looks like a fully formed human being
FACT: “At 12 weeks the organs are all formed. It does look like a baby, albeit an alien baby, because it has a big head and what looks like a tail,” Dr Nicholson-Spence said.
But even with a beating heart and the ability to move, the foetus cannot survive on its own.