Not even a referendum can end the abortion debate

Thursday, January 31, 2019

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The sooner we recognise that the abortion debate is a never-ending one, the better off we will be as a society trying to come to terms with ourselves.

Once the debate enters the realm of religion, it is no longer possible to find consensus on whether abortion is wrong or right.

We in this space have no wish to tell any woman what to do with her body beyond suggesting to her that she does what is in her best interest and that of the foetus she is bearing because that is an awesome responsibility, whatever decision she makes.

We completely understand the American poet, essayist and critic Katha Pollitt who says: “In the end, abortion is an issue of fundamental human rights. To force women to undergo pregnancy and childbirth against their will is to deprive them of the right to make basic decisions about their lives and well-being, and to give that power to the state.

“We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision, and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it's good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary.”

The problem we have with the anti-abortion side of the debate is that it does not go much beyond the suggestion that the foetus should be allowed to come to term. What is to happen to that baby when it is born is of little moment.

The debate spares precious little time to acknowledge the large number of unwanted, unplanned-for children who are born and come to live in great misery, abject poverty, illiteracy and poor health.

In the United States, for example, there are large numbers of anti-abortionists who could not care less about the large number of black men who are unjustifiably killed by the police every year.

How is it possible to be so concerned about the sanctity of life at birth but at no other stage of life? What could possibly explain such a dichotomy? The clear implication is that a life only has sanctity if it is of particular race, class or ethnicity.

We do not advise women whether to have or not have their baby, only that they should think long and hard as to the full import of any action they take and how it will affect others of their fellow men.

The realists among us have always known that this is one issue that will continue to divide us till the end of time. Therefore, any decision about making abortion legal or illegal should only be taken by the nation as a family and not by any one section of it, including government.

In other words, only a referendum can provide an adequate indication of how the Jamaican family feels about abortion and then only in a general sense. We better understand that even after a referendum, the issue will still be as hotly debated.

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