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Support young parliamentarians' call for abortion law review

BY Glenroy Murray

Thursday, November 09, 2017

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It is not everyday that we find parliamentarians across both parties in agreement about the need to address a legislative issue. Despite its controversial nature, especially given the propensity of extremist elements within the Church, the issue of abortion is being viewed through bipartisan lens, and rightly so. We should commend the bold parliamentarians, who are all relatively young, for stepping forward and highlighting how our antiquated abortion laws are a blockade to progress as we strive to achieve Vision 2030.

Dr Christopher Tufton, Dr Dayton Campbell, Alando Terrelonge, and Lisa Hanna have all raised the need to review our abortion laws for a multiplicity of reasons. For Tufton, the current minister of health, the economic burden of botched abortions on the public health system cannot be ignored. Reports are some 130 women have had to access the public health care because of complications arising from 'undercover' abortions. These abortions are an inescapable feature of a legislative framework which indiscriminately criminalises the termination of a pregnancy with a punishment of life imprisonment (see sections 72 & 73 of the Offences Against the Person Act). Women are forced to seek out secret termination services, which are unregulated, and from which they cannot seek redress if they are poorly done. The result is that these women show up with a wide array of complications, some of which could be potentially fatal.

For Terrelonge, the issue of abortions is inextricably linked to any discussion about families, parenting and fatherhood in Jamaica. He stated same in a meeting of the Human Resources and Social Development Committee of Parliament last week which had been discussing a potential policy mandating the registration of fathers' particulars on birth certificates. He rightly recognised that mandatory registration doesn't address the issues of fatherlessness, but rather honest conversation is needed to be had about the readiness to parent, and potentially relaxing the criminal prohibition on termination of pregnancies in light of that unreadiness among pregnant mothers.

This conversation needs to continue, and it is welcoming that our younger politicians are willing and ready to have the conversation. We have been tiptoeing around the abortion laws for years and we jump on this interest in tackling the legislation head-on.

Perhaps the inclusion of younger voices does have its benefits after all.

Our prime minister should establish a review committee so that we can recommence the abortion conversation with new lenses and fresher eyes.

Glenroy Murray is policy and advocacy manager at Equality for All Foundation. He also serves as policy officer with WE-Change. Send comments to the Observer or glenroy.am.murray@gmail.com.

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