A Joint Select Committee of the Jamaican Parliament continues to debate whether or not to liberalize the Caribbean nation’s laws which currently protect the unborn, while Jamaican citizens criticize unwanted foreign pressure in support of abortion. Among the pressure points is a push to link abortion liberalization with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).Jamaica’s Ministry of Health has announced its support for amending the Offences Against Persons Act ostensibly to help the country reach MDG 5, which aims to reduce maternal mortality. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly, however, rejected tying MDG 5 to abortion when adopting the MDGs in 2000. Data has consistently shown that reductions in maternal mortality are attributable to improved access to skilled obstetric care, clean water and antibiotics, as opposed to widening abortion access.
Using Ministry of Health statistics, physician Wayne West has sought to rebut the perception that illegal abortion contributes significantly to maternal mortality in Jamaica. He notes that former Minister of Health John Junor initially had concluded in 2005 that there was no evidence that induced abortion was a significant cause of maternal mortality in Jamaica. West asks rhetorically “Who is seeking to create the impression that Jamaican women are the victims of hundreds/thousands of ‘botched abortions’ with significant associated mortality and morbidity, and why?”
To counteract the pro-abortion push, last week Kingston Archbishop Donald J. Reece, joined by the two other Jamaican Catholic bishops and pro-life leaders, held a press conference calling upon Parliament to continue to protect the unborn and vowing that Church groups will continue to provide support to women in crisis pregnancies. Pro-lifers also presented over 87,000 signatures in support of maintaining Jamaica’s laws.
In previous remarks that attracted widespread attention, Archbishop Reece stated “The people of Jamaica have not asked for abortion; the churches have not asked for it nor has the vast majority of civic groups or their leaders. A reasonable person might rightly question who exactly it is that wishes to impose abortion on this nation.”
Critics of liberalization told the Friday Fax they are concerned about outside pressure after an about-face earlier this year by the Ministry of Health, which had assured them in writing that an Abortion Policy Review Advisory Group Report recommending liberalization would not be advanced in Parliament without wide public consultation and input. However the recommendations were quickly put forward without the promised consultation immediately following a visit from a European Union delegation, causing critics to wonder whether pressure was applied. European donor countries and UN agencies put direct pressure on Nicaragua when its legislature voted on striking all loopholes allowing abortion.
Others pointed to the role of the Jamaica’s National Family Planning Board in promoting abortion. The National Family Planning Board is a Member Association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, from which it receives funding.
Shirley Richards, President of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, cited the importance of Jamaica to both sides of the abortion debate, and the likely impact a decision by Jamaica’s parliament would have countries throughout the Caribbean, given the island nation’s outsized cultural influence.