Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Tuesday | October 13, 2009
Home : Letters
Public policy must protect public health
The Editor, Sir:

I am glad that this Government has had the courage to open up the debate on the law which, in its present form, (the 1864 Offences Against the Person Act), makes women who terminate their pregnancies - and others who assist them - criminals. Honest debate gives us a better chance of arriving at the right decision and I welcome Anne Arthur's response to my letter, which has caused me to look again at my arguments.

Yes, the foetus resembles the child it will develop into earlier than perhaps my letter suggested. However, viability means the ability to survive even if with a great deal of assistance, as in the case of a new-born baby. The foetus is not able to survive outside the womb until many weeks after conception, way into the end of the second trimester. Yes, the Abortion Policy Review Group's recommendations need to be very carefully reviewed by the parliamentary committee dealing with this matter. I stick to my first point, however, that the Mustard Seed poll's leading questions, full of unwritten assumptions and quite unacceptable to many professionals in this field, have not helped to inform the debate.

A more optimal human existence

I am also unmoved with regard to my assertion that collectively we have the power to create, albeit over thousands of years and with the input of many cultures, a more optimal human existence on every level. As a follower of Christ, I believe this is what His example and teachings are about, as are the teachings of many other great religious leaders.

This is precisely what decriminalising and destigmatising abortion will move us towards. It will not, to quote from Arthur's letter, "rip apart the morals for responsible sexual behaviour". Responsible sexual behaviour is linked to a multiplicity of factors including good parenting and, especially for girls, the presence of a loving father or close male figure.

Child abuse, especially sexual abuse, and low self-esteem, whatever the cause, are among the factors leading to irresponsible sexual behaviour. Moreover, abortion may be chosen for a host of reasons: contraceptive failure, rape, incest, an abusive relationship, health risks to the mother, etc., of which only one is irresponsible sexual behaviour.

Changing the abortion law will allow the problems that lead to a woman wanting to terminate her pregnancy to be more easily and openly discussed with doctors and counsellors (the importance of these services must not be underestimated); it will prevent the birth of unwanted children, some, perhaps many, of whom will be abused; it will prevent deaths and complications from unsafe abortions; and it is likely eventually to reduce the rate of abortions.

Abortions will continue

In any case, abortions will continue whether or not the law is changed. However, those who have money will continue to have safe abortions while an unchanged law will mean a continuation of the suffering and the deaths of those who cannot afford this very expensive option.

This is why Parliament must look at the consequences for public safety, especially of its most vulnerable citizens, in its deliberations and leave the theologians, philosophers and religious leaders - along with us, the congregations, the scholars, the readers, the thinkers, the public - to discuss the controversial points of morality until we can resolve them.

It is not the job of public policy to develop legislation on the basis of controversial questions of morality but on evidence. In this case, it must protect public health.

I am, etc.,



Home | Lead Stories | News | Business | Sport | Commentary | Letters | Entertainment | The Shipping Industry | Lifestyle |