Abortion in dancehall music and the backstreets in Jamaica

Abortion is illegal in Jamaica except to save a woman’s life or preserve her physical or mental health under a law dating back to 1864.It is also the subject of dancehall music, according to a study by Sonjah Stanley Niaah, head of the Institute of Caribbean Studies, University of the West Indies. The study, entitled “DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto,” finds that women who have had an abortion are shamed and shunned in this music. One recent song describes women who have had abortions as “haunted” and followed around by ghosts. Dancehall music has won a reputation both for extolling violence and playing a role in enforcing moral codes, especially about abortion or sexual orientation. Stanley-Niaah has traced the origins of attention to abortion in dancehall music to a hit song in the early 1990s entitled “Murder She Wrote” about a woman with a “pretty face and a bad character” who had an abortion.Illegal abortions happen in Jamaica as often as elsewhere, based on the same double standard as elsewhere, that those with money are able to get access to safe abortions illegally, while according to Lisa Hanna, a member of parliament, in a newspaper interview last year, the poor “get mutilated and botched by clinics that are not satisfactory”.According to doctors and those with knowledge of the illegal market, an abortion typically costs about $120 to $200 in Jamaica. Women who cannot afford this may buy misoprostol on the black market for self-use, but possibly without knowing the proper dosage and without medical support, experts say.Michael Abrahams, an obstetrician who has been outspoken with his view that Jamaica’s abortion laws should change, said he has seen patients with unsuccessful and botched abortions throughout his career: “Between 10 to 20 percent of my patients have had at least one [abortion]… It’s an archaic law and it’s unfair to women.”Other medical professionals spoke about seeing life-threatening, botched abortions in public hospitals, e.g. following the use of herbs such as “dog’s blood” and “guinea hen weed”. These were mentioned by Steve Weaver, head of the nursing school, University of the West Indies, who has studied traditional medicine.The stark contrast between public standards and private acts are a symptom of the complicated relationship many Jamaicans have with the topic of abortion, Stanley Niaah said. “I call that complexity, in some quarters, dishonesty because there is a total hypocrisy around how we treat issues in terms of the private domain versus the public domain… Where a family has a young teenager and they don’t want her future to be blighted by this occurrence, they immediately find the resources (for an abortion). It is completely supported in the private domain.”Public opposition has made discussion of changing the law difficult. But the Jamaican National Family Planning Board said it was reviewing its position on abortion after appointment of new board members in May.SOURCE: Rebekah Kebede, Thomson Reuters, 24 May 2016