JAMAICA – House Committee recommends conscience vote on abortion – 13 years later

Therecommendation was described as the likeliest response of the 11-membercommittee, chaired by Opposition MP and Roman Catholic Deacon Ronald Thwaites,after listening to the divisive views of more than 70 local and overseasinstitutions, individuals and others for a little over two years. Therecommendation said: “Your committee,being cognisant of the contending views on the subject matter, recommends aconscience vote by the members of this honourable House.”

One differenceof opinion captured in the committee’s report states: “We observed that a common recommendation that was made by stakeholderswas that women should receive counselling before they consider procuring anabortion, to know their options. However, we noted that proponents of thedebate argued that after receiving counselling, if a woman chooses to have anabortion, this right should be respected. They also advised thatpost-counselling should be offered to women after they have had an abortion.”

MP JulietCuthbert Flynn introduced the motion that led to the committee’s deliberationsto the House of Representatives in 2018. She urged the House to consider therecommendations of the Abortion Policy Group (APG) from early 2007 – which advisedthe then Minister of Health to look at the high prevalence of abortion worldwide,including in Jamaica, and the high toll of maternal mortality and morbiditywhere access to abortion is still illegal. The recommendations called for developingsystems and guidelines to ensure that abortion is safe and accessible for all. TheAPG also recommended that the Government repeal the relevant sections of theOffences against the Persons Act 1864, and replace it with a civil law stating whenabortion would be lawful.

After achange of government in 2007, very little was heard about these recommendationsuntil Cuthbert’s motion in 2018. The committee heard from e.g. Jamaican BarAssociation, People’s National Party’s Women Movement, Ambassador Ruby EvadneCoye, Women’s Empowerment for Change (We-Change), Caribbean Association forFeminist Research and Action, and Group of Committed Christians in Support ofAbortion up to 12 Weeks. They received 780 e-mails rejecting abortion and 145supporting the proposed changes to the law, plus other submissions andpetitions.

It may beof interest that in 1976, the journal Studies in Family Planning published a surveyof medical opinion on proposed liberalisation of the abortion law. Among a national sample of 120 Jamaican physicians, publichealth nurses, and licensed midwives, more than 80% favoured legalisation ofabortion, and most also supported changes in the health service to accommodatedemand.

SOURCE: Jamaica Observer, by Balford Henry, 28 March 2020 ; Studies in Family Planning by K Smith, RL Johnson 1976;7 (12):334-39 ; VISUAL: TheMillenial Jamaican JM, September 2019