TRINIDAD – Abortion debate
Call for a new look at ‘archaic legislation’
PORT OF SPAIN –– Amid increased calls to legalize abortions which have been sanctioned by former Minister of Health Dr Fuad Khan and advisory director of the Family Planning Association Dr Jacqueline Sharpe, Roman Catholic priest Father Clyde Harvey, however, said Trindad and Tobago must build a society where life was respected even in the most difficult of circumstances, including abnormalities.
There have been fervent calls by some groups to have the procedure legal especially in light of the Zika virus.
At a forum on the topic Abortion: Her Body, Her Choice? at the Noor Hassanali Auditorium, UWI, St Augustine Campus, Wednesday there was a strong call by Khan and Sharpe for the legislature to be re-examined and therefore grant women the right to do with their bodies as they saw fit, especially in instances of rape, incest and where the mother’s life was at risk.
Sharpe, who said the most recent data available were from 2004, showed there were 1,854 abortions which were conducted at the hospitals, of which 333 were spontaneous and five were medical abortions. She said worldwide some 22 million women underwent abortions, whether legal or illegal, annually.
In Guyana, she added, abortion was available on request but for specific requirements, including rape and incest. St Vincent and St Lucia have also changed their laws. Describing abortion as a very uncomfortable topic, Khan said he had seen the effects of unsafe abortions and called for further discussions to take place.
“Moving forward more religious bodies and more women’s groups should come out and give their views but I believe women should have the right to deal with their bodies the way they see fit,” Khan said. He said legislation was archaic, adding if a person was caught selling over the counter drugs that person could be jailed for four years for aiding and abetting in an abortion.
While as a government minister Khan said the topic arose with the former Cabinet but at that time the country was not faced with the ZIka virus.
However, Harvey, who said the teachings of the Catholic Church were both clear and complex, said human life must be protected from the moment of conception.
However, he added, that painted a broader picture regarding how life was viewed.
“We have to build a culture in which conversations existed between men and women and not simply between women and their doctor.
“Unless we have a clear understanding of what life is, unless we in our own being seem to be in tuned to what our own life means and out of that attunement, therefore, to be able to be in tune with every other human being, we are going to reduce this to a question of me and my life and something,” Harvey said.
He said in his work with young men of Laventille many of them often said: “She making a child for me,” or “I have to breed she”.
There was an initial happiness and then a withdrawal, Harvey said, adding that demonstrated the lack of understanding of what was life.
“We have to build a culture in which men and women together understand that conception is something engaged in together.
“We cannot simply discuss it in terms of women’s rights because it is part of a whole. And when we understand that young men pick up a gun and they think nothing of shooting another human being . . . that is part of the life valuing,” Harvey said.
On Zika, Harvey urged that what mattered was caring for another human being in the first place despite imperfection.
“There is a perfectionism whereby people seem to think that we as human beings must aim to produce what is perfect or not produce it at all,” Harvey added.
Women’s rights activist, Lynette Seeberan-Suite, who agreed that there must be a change in the law, said the doctors performing the procedure ran the risk of being prosecuted. Members of the audience seemed divided on the topic as some were very passionate against abortion, saying it would create a society of destroying lives rather than savings them.