Monday, 23 February 2009

The prophet Jeremiah figures in Jamaica abortion debate

The debate continues over abortion law in Jamaica, after an Abortion Policy Review Advisory Group last year recommended that the law be changed to make abortion legal. Termination of pregnancy is now illegal under an 1864 Offences Against the Person Act, although common law permits the procedure in cases of significant fetal abnormality; where pregnancy would represent a threat to the welfare or health of the mother; and where pregnancy is an outcome of rape or incest.

Over the weekend, a local group, The Coalition of Lawyers for the Defence of the Unborn, called the suggested decriminilization measures 'revolting', and took particular exception to a recommendation in the proposed law prescribing sanctions against medical personnel who refused to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of 'conscience'.

And more recently, the Jamaica Gleaner reported on a pro-life pastor who compared a provision in the draft bill to Adolf Hitler's plan to exterminate Germans with physical or mental disabilities, a comparison which might perhaps be valid if said Germans had been living inside various women at the time. The pastor of course went on to quote the Christian bible in an attempt to show that "God's plan for human lives started from conception."
According to the clergyman, God said to Jeremiah: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee ... and ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." He said this indicated that God had a specific plan for the prophet's life even before he was born. He argued that no doctor, psychologist or theologian could determine God's plan for a human life. In that regard, he said abortion should remain unlawful, except in the most extreme cases such as proven threat to the life of the mother.
Although, I'm not sure how we would know that God's plan for that foetus isn't way more important than whatever the mother was doing at the time. I mean, according to the pastor's argument, what if that child would have cured cancer, whereas the mother was pretty much just hanging out shelling peas and watching Gilmore Girls? Does God's supposed plan for this foetus just go away because it's a threat to the mother's life? And if the two lives are equally valuable to God, how is it we automatically choose the mother's? Or is God going to tap us on the shoulder and say, "Um yeah. So I'm going to go ahead and keep the cancer-curer kid. I know you have your laws and stuff that you used me to make but...ooh. Awkward."
Reverend Thames said in the case of rape or child abuse, there should not be an automatic abortion, but attempts should be made to preserve the life of the child and counsel the mother to consider adoption. "If the mother insists on an abortion, this should not be treated as a criminal offence, but as the subject of further counselling," he added.
And if I throw a really heavy shoe at someone who's trying to 'counsel' me into his own agenda after I've been through an extremely traumatic experience? What will that be treated as?

Certain things are clearly still escaping the way we govern in the Caribbean: like the fact that your religion cannot dictate my reproductive choices, and that even setting aside the origin of the State's laws, it is still not allowed to plant its flag in my uterus. Ultimately, a woman must be allowed to determine what happens to her own body, for reasons that have to do with human rights, health and well-being, and personal freedoms.


  1. I think we need to give the good Reverend a break. He's only read the one book... the "good" one. He therefore can't reasonably be expected to formulate logical opinions. If the good reverend can find only one reference in the bible for his argument against abortion which does not speak specifically to the act of abortion, come on Mongoose, lighten up on the man.

    The problem with the pro-life argument is that it ignores the rights of the woman. The problem with the pro-choice argument is that it ignores the rights of the man. Yes, I said it. And men should have some rights as regards their off-spring.

    I haven't even begun to wrap my mind around whether the child should have the right to life or not and at what stage this right should become enforced by law. Sometimes when I have to spend long periods of time with my nieces and nephews I begin to play with the idea that perhaps their rights to life have not yet come into play. Then luckily for them their parents come to their rescue.

    Laws that protect children above their parents seem to make sense to us in a very logical, natural way. But before that child is born, some of us value the life of the born (the mother and father) over the life of the child. Others value the life of the unborn over the life of the born which makes no sense to me at all.

    I think that abortion is a big deal, it's not like contraceptives that prevent pregnancy. I think it's something that should be thought through very carefully, no matter the life circumstances of the mother and should not be easy to do. I think, like every other economic transaction in a free market society, it should be regulated and monitored to ensure the safety of the society's citizens.

    However, I do not think it should be outlawed, that the mother should be outcast from society because of her choice or that doctors who carry out abortions should have to do so in secret. I also don't think doctors should be forced to carry out abortions if they don't want to.

    Jamaica's laws now allow its doctors to carry out assisted deaths under a very clear set of circumstances. Why would abortion then be illegal?

  2. Jodi, I'm not sure what you envision men's rights should be concerning a foetus in another person's body, since you haven't said. I would be interested to hear how you propose to honour these rights in a way that always simultaneously protects women's reproductive human rights, and a way that does not further erode women's already diminished power in sexual relationships.

    That abortion 'is a big deal' and 'should be thought through very carefully' are obvious. There seems to be this notion that the pro-choice argument suggests some kind of abortion festival for all. Women do not come to this decision lightly. I, as a woman in control of my faculties, am capable of making decisions regarding my family planning and my body. And I don't need to be shown ultra-sounds and preached at in an effort to guilt me into following someone else's agenda.

    I'm also not sure what you mean by 'like every other economic transaction.' Terminations would fall under regulation of the health industry. We don't separately regulate vasectomies or hysterectomies. And while it is noble to want to protect doctors' own moral convictions, if a medical service is legal under the laws of a country, a reasonable number of doctors who are reasonably accessible must carry it out. Otherwise, 100% of doctors could opt out, and then there would be zero access.

    Abortion is illegal in Jamaica under all circumstances. Common application of the law allows it to be performed under certain specific circumstances. The proposed bill seeks to bring the common application onto the law books, as well as make other provisions not currently covered.


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