Abortion: Personal view v public conscience
Marlene Malahoo Forte (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

The matter of legalisation of abortion has resurfaced, once again, following Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affair Marlene Malahoo Forte's ad hoc disclosure on the issue in Parliament on Tuesday. In the videos circulated by the various media houses, the minister shared that, based on very personal reasons, she will not support or lead the charge of legalising abortion.

Admittedly, in the broader context of her discourse — though the media houses omitted to give the full extent of the video clip — she stated that other colleague ministers shared opposing views and she was not speaking collectively on behalf of the Government. However, as is often practised in today's journalism, our media houses put out misleading headlines and click baits to get the readership upset. Frankly, the reporting was rather biased and disingenuous.

The media needs to be more responsible as they play a critical role in shaping the narrative of what the citizens consume. Too often politicians have to suffer a negative image simply because journalists manipulate the stories put out to the public. Let me point out that I am no political sympathiser, but we must practise fairness. As a linguist, I have a deep appreciation for discourse analysis. Once a person's words are distorted, the entire perspective of the conversation changes.

The court of public opinion has largely ruled that Minister Malahoo Forte's remarks were inappropriate, emphasising that there is no room for a personal stance on abortion as she is an elected official of the people of Jamaica. Although we are in "woke" times, legalisation of abortion, buggery, and same-sex marriage, to name a few, are still matters of personal conscience. These issues are rather divisive and it is good that Minister Malahoo Forte could publicly express a humanly independent perspective.

Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn (Photo: Bryan Cummings)

The atmosphere which currently obtains is that because the minister shared a personal view — which she has a right to — and it differs from the opinion of many, people think she needs to be sacked. But let us also admit that she is not one of the most-liked Members of Parliament because she stands her ground and often utters harsh truths.

Do people realise that both Minister Malahoo Forte's and former state minister in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn's divergent views on abortion are from a place of bias? It means, therefore, that both viewpoints will attract equal support and opposition. Why should either win over the other? It is both alarming and interesting that when Cuthbert-Flynn raised the issue of legalising abortion she did not get the level of support equal to the backlash that Minister Malahoo Forte has received.

Are Jamaicans even ready for this new development? Is it even the majority who supports its legalisation?

We prove ourselves to be liars if we ignore the fact that everyone of us is governed by certain social codes, morals, or values. They may not necessarily be the most religiously aligned, but our conscience is shaped by our socialisation and experiences. The legalisation of abortion and other sexually related activities is not solely reposed on Minister Malahoo Forte. There has to be further discussions with other people, including those from partisan civil society and integrity groups.

Until we can tackle these critical issues, which form part of the unionised world agenda, in a mature manner, let us ask our journalists to do better reporting.

By the way, I support Justice Minister Delroy Chuck's public stance that serial rapist Davian Byran should have received a life sentence. However, how is it that he believes making the sex registry public would be an over punishment? Who is being protected?

Oneil Madden is interim chair/head of Department of Humanities and lecturer in language(s) and linguistics at Northern Caribbean University. He is also a PhD candidate in applied linguistics at Clermont Auvergne University, France. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or maddenoniel@yahoo.com.

Oneil Madden

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