On October 9, 2018, Government Member of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert Flynn opened the debate on her Private Member’s Motion (#61) calling for the repeal of Sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Persons Act, which makes abortion illegal. She is calling for this to be replaced by “The Termination of Pregnancy Act.” This was recommended by the Abortion Policy Review Group in 2007 – twelve years ago. This issue has been on (and off) the political agenda for decades now.
Now, I get the feeling that the issue is being allowed to quietly slip off the agenda by our politicians.
Do Jamaican women’s lives matter?
July 4, 2019
Partnership for Women’s Health Concerned by Parliamentarians’ Perceived Lack of Interest in Abortion Debate
The Partnership for Women’s Health and Wellbeing is deeply concerned by what appears to be a creeping malaise in the Human Resource and Social Development Committee of Parliament, hearing public submissions on MP Juliet Cuthbert Flynn’s Private Member’s Motion (61) proposing decriminalisation of abortion and the provision of access to medically safe and regulated abortion services.
The July 3 postponement of hearings of the Committee is the second such due to lack of a quorum. When put alongside Prime Minister Holness’ reported dismissal of the discussions as a ‘distraction’ the Partnership is led to conclude that the issue of women’s health and wellbeing takes second place in the national scheme of things and is therefore not to be treated with the seriousness it deserves. This is deplorable and unacceptable.
Signs of the malaise are not only evident in the postponements of hearings but also in the record of attendance by Committee members. Of the ten members, (we are not aware who has replaced the late MP Bloomfield) only four, including the Chair, have been consistently present at the Hearings. The Chair, Rev. Ronald Thwaites was missing, albeit with an apology, from the first opportunity of the Committee to hear the pro-choice arguments. MP Angela Brown-Burke has been the only Parliamentarian who has availed herself of the opportunity to attend hearings – which are open to all Parliamentarians, whether members of the Committee or not.
We salute the consistent presence and involvement so far of MP Michael Stewart, MP Alando Terrelonge, and MP Cuthbert Flynn, the mover of the Private Members Motion #61. Their commitment to the task makes all the more regrettable the unsupportive signal inherent in the Prime Minister’s dismissal of the discussions and the Opposition’s limited attention to and participation in the process so far.
The postponement until further notice of another sitting of the Parliamentary Committee shows a lack of sensitivity to the impact on those scheduled to appear before the Committee. Many people have changed their schedules and incurred costs for travel, including from the wider Caribbean, to attend the meetings.
It has already been an unconscionably long process of decision-making about whether or not to continue to criminalize an aspect of women’s reproductive health in Jamaica. The issue has been brought before the Parliament on different occasions since the 1970s. In the meantime, women continue to die or present to hospitals with dire complications arising from illegal abortions as they face the difficult choices arising from a pregnancy they may have been forced into, cannot support, or which places their lives and the wellbeing of their existing children at risk.
The Partnership calls on Parliamentarians to demonstrate that women’s lives matter to them. These meetings are not about an abstract or hypothetical matter. They are not just about the mechanical exercise of drafting another green paper or report but about a public health emergency that has real, catastrophic effects on Jamaican women, their families and therefore on the country’s larger development prospects.
Contact: Joan French, Chair, 976-819-6800
MY FOOTNOTE: And public opinion? Here are the results of a May, 2018 poll conducted by the Jamaica Gleaner: