The abortion debate: should you have a choice?

JUST two weeks ago, a 10-year-old girl was granted an abortion in Brazil after she was repeatedly raped by her 44-year-old stepfather who eventually impregnated her. Abortion is illegal in that country except where the woman has been sexually abused, is extremely ill or if the foetus is deformed.

In Jamaica, legislators are still grappling with whether to legalise abortion, which is currently not authorised under law, although it is widely carried out. On one hand pro-lifers argue that abortion is murder, while pro-choicers believe that a woman ought to have a say in what happens to her body.

In an effort to decide whether abortion should be legalised following calls from various sections of society to do so, former health minister John Junor decided in 2005 to establish an Abortion Policy Review Advisory Group (APRAG), which has spent the last 18 months reviewing the proposals made by both pro-choice and pro-life groups. The group is yet to make a unified decision on the issue.

One of the more vocal opponents of abortion has been Christina Milford, director of the Pregnancy Resource Centre of Jamaica based in St James, whose centre counsels women contemplating or who have done an abortion. She said that those who have undergone abortions usually become angry afterwards and suffer other psychological problems.

Many who have called for legalised abortions have done so on the grounds that women should be the ones determining their reproductive rights. They also contend that women who are raped should not be asked to carry the baby to term against their will. They believe that the baby will be a reminder of a terrible ordeal that they would wish to forget.

Where it’s legal

A number of countries in the Caribbean and Latin America have banned abortions altogether except to save the life of a mother. These countries include Chile, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Antigua and Barbuda. Both St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago allow abortions on the same grounds as Jamaica. However, there are some countries such as Cuba, Guyana and Puerto Rico which do not criminalise abortion.

Despite the threat of imprisonment, the World Health Organisation estimates that 35 illegal abortions per 1,000 females 15-44 years old are performed by untrained health workers and others in Jamaica annually.

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