The abortion debate… here we go again

The abortion debate… here we go again

Friday, January 15, 2021

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For the umpteenth time Jamaica is engaged in the abortion debate that has never failed to stir emotions on either side.

We have long come to the conclusion that once the debate enters the realm of religion it is no longer possible to find consensus on whether abortion is wrong or right.

Take Bishop Alvin Bailey, vice-president of the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals, for instance.

He has said that, Prime Minister Andrew Holness needs to “rein in” St Andrew West Rural Member of Parliament Mrs Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn for her public support of abortion which, he argued, has “flown in the face of God and Christianity”.

The last time we checked, Jamaica was a democracy allowing all views to contend, and protecting the principle of free speech. So Bishop Bailey's appeal to the prime minister to “rein in” Mrs Cuthbert-Flynn should be treated for what it is — claptrap.

Mrs Cuthbert Flynn, we recall, is asking Parliament to repeal sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Person Act, which makes abortion illegal and substitute it with a civil law — The Termination of Pregnancy Act — as was recommended by the Abortion Policy Review Group in 2007.

We recall that some years ago when she brought the matter to the legislature she indicated that abortion was personal for her, because of the death of a valuable young constituent from a botched abortion.

Then, in 2019, during public hearings on her motion before Parliament's Human Resources and Social Development Committee, Mrs Cuthbert Flynn revealed that when she was 19 years old and pregnant she underwent life-saving surgery for a brain tumour that was pressing on her optic nerve. The result was that she had to terminate her pregnancy.

On the opposite side of the debate, Ms Carole Bridge, an anti-abortion advocate, shared with the committee her experience of ignoring her doctor's advice to have an abortion while she was undergoing treatment for a brain tumour.

The doctor had told her that the drug being used to treat her could result in the tumour making her blind because of its proximity to her optic nerve. However, she held to her belief and delivered “a perfectly healthy baby girl”.

As we have pointed out before, we have no wish to tell any woman what to do with her body, beyond suggesting 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.

One of the problems that the anti-abortion side of the debate consistently encounters is that it does not go much beyond the suggestion that the foetus should be allowed to come to term. In other words, they generally ignore issues to do with what happens after the baby is born and the country dealing with the number of unwanted, unplanned-for children who live in abject poverty.

Some of the loudest proponents of democracy are, at the same time, among the most virulently opposed to the holding of a referendum to decide issues, such as abortion, that Jamaicans find hardest to resolve.

We have no doubt that this issue will continue to divide the country for years to come. Even after, as we propose, the decision is taken by the nation as a family, and not by any one section of it, including Government.

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