Be careful!

Doctor warns against legalising abortions to accommodate 'inconvenient pregnancies'

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, January 31, 2019

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TENSIONS ran high yesterday during the renewed debate on reform of the country's abortion laws before the Human Resource and Physical Development Committee of Parliament, which heard submissions from two impassioned individuals.

The committee is reviewing a private member's motion tabled by West Rural St Andrew Member of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert Flynn, calling for Parliament to consider the recommendations of the 2007 Abortion Policy Group.

At the sitting, 45-year general surgery practitioner and former consultant surgeon at the University Hospital of the West Indies, Dr Charles Royes, dismissed the argument that legalising abortion will reduce maternal death.

He pointed out that there is no evidence that abortions contribute significantly to maternal deaths.

He told the committee that among the main direct causes of maternal mortality are hypertensive diseases in pregnancy, haemorrhaging, ectopic pregnancies and infection.

“Deaths due to complications of abortion are not in the top few and we don't know an exact figure but they are probably less than any of those; the complications of abortion do not make a large contribution to maternal mortality in Jamaica,” he insisted.

Dr Royes also told the committee that: “Whereas it might be seen as expanding women's rights it has not been demonstrated that any of those suggestions (for legalising abortion) serve to improve women's health and well-being and it certainly pays no attention to the life and well being of the child; will we now craft and embrace any law which will allow the killing of unborn babies and without any doubt very likely mainly for convenience?” he asked, pointing out that the country stands to lose significantly more than it gains if abortion is legalised.

Dr Royes, in his presentation, referred to the recommendations contained in a 2008 draft abortion bill.

He said legalisation will likely increase the number of abortions and the risks associated with the procedure.

He also said the reduction in fertility rates, now at 1.96 children per woman, suggests that women are becoming more responsible in their behaviour. “It appears that our young ladies might be heeding the message – don't get pregnant until you're ready and able. Although there is a long way to go there are already encouraging moves in the right direction,” the medical doctor remarked.

Dr Royes said that according to his research 10 per cent of pregnancies in Jamaica end in abortion, and that of the estimated 6,000 abortion cases annually, five per cent stem from rapes, foetal defects, infections, and risks to the mother.

He strongly cautioned against legalising abortions to accommodate what he said are the “inconvenient pregnancies” which make up the other 95 per cent.

“These are pregnancies where persons have engaged in sexual activity with or without contraception and an unexpected or inconvenient pregnancy has resulted,” he explained.

Dr Royes made a number of recommendations to the committee, while at the same time emphasising that he does not support abortion.

He suggested that public education efforts be intensified to prevent unwanted pregnancies; upgrade the state of the public health system to provide better services to pregnant women; and establish dedicated special facilities within the health sector for pregnant women.

He said these “pregnancy resource centres” could provide prenatal medical care, and information to pregnant women, including rape victims, as well as those who may be contemplating abortion.

These services would include ultrasound, blood work, and counselling.

He said if after given these resources some women still opt for abortion, then it would be with the full understanding that they are going against the law.

Christina Milford, head of the Pregnancy Resource Centre of Jamaica, also cautioned against legalising abortion. She told the committee that countries where abortion has been legalised have experienced an immediate increase in the procedure.

She warned of the psychosocial dangers of abortion, pointing out that in her experience some women opt for abortion out of pressure, relationship fears, and misinformation about the unborn child. Milford also stated that there are medical doctors who stand to profit from abortion. “In my experience love, care and support have empowered these young women to become caring mothers who before (had) not wanted children,”

Cuthbert Flynn had called on the legislature to take steps to repeal sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Persons Act, which criminalises abortion, and establish a “Termination of Pregnancy Act”, as recommended by the Abortion Policy Review Group.

The committee currently has 12 submissions before it and is scheduled to resume its sitting on February 27.

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