Abortion and the ability to choose revisited

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By Akola Thompson

IN last week’s column, I wrote about the lack of abortion laws in Trinidad & Tobago in relation to similar progressive laws in Guyana, which has seen abortion being legalised since 1995; and I stated that abortions are performed at public hospitals only in cases of botched abortions.I have since been made aware that that part of the column is wrong, and I apologize profusely for that. The correct thing would have been to write that while abortion has been legal since 1995, “only hospitals and clinics authorized by the Minister of Health under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act may perform terminations of pregnancy” in Guyana.

Currently, abortion services can be accessed in only three national healthcare institutions: Suddie Hospital (Region 2), New Amsterdam Hospital (Region 6) and Georgetown Public Hospital (Region 4.) However, the Diamond Diagnostic Centre and the Linden Hospital are preparing to implement these services.

Mistake aside, the fact still remains that lack of money, education and access constantly hinders a woman’s freedom to choose whether or not to have an abortion. This results in many injuries, sterility, and in many cases death; showing that simply making something legal without properly implementing it is not enough.

While I know there are several competent doctors in these public institutions carrying out abortions, for every one of them there are two incompetent ones who constantly place the lives entrusted to them in danger, as they have been inadequately trained. Several doctors who have not been licensed or trained to carry out abortions have, in the last few years, been named in abortion-related deaths.
One should never forget 19-year-old Karen Badal, whose life was snuffed out after a botched abortion performed at the private office of an unlicensed doctor. One should always be aware of the countless abortion-related deaths that never make it into the media.

The knowledge that they may end up being attended to by incompetent doctors, coupled with the lack of money to seek private alternatives and lack of education about contraceptive measures, may be responsible for many women continuing to go to ‘bush doctors’, ‘bottom house clinics’, or injuring themselves to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy — still leaving us with a high rate of abortion-related deaths.

The accessibility of abortion information from several institutions also remains a problem, as such information is not readily provided on the telephone, particularly at GPHC, where one is told that one would have to come to the facility to access the information one needs.

Health Minister Dr. George Norton has, in the past year, laid bare his intention to make abortion services available at all public health facilities, in an effort to provide access to proper medical care and diminish the high number of deaths caused by botched abortions.

While his statements are commendable, as it is great to see a man respect the rights of women in accordance with the laws set out, what will most likely ensue is an uphill battle that would warrant continuous work, as society’s very large religious community would most likely see this as an affront to the doctrines they claim to respect. However, since his statement in May of last year, not much has been heard about the progress he has made, although I will admit I could have missed any such announcements.

He had also expressed plans to get the “Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act” up and running, as legislation means nothing if all the means are not put in place, one of which would see a 12- member Termination Pregnancy Board being set up; but, again, to my knowledge, no such board has been set up as yet.

While access to safe and affordable abortion is something the country needs, bringing to justice unlicensed persons who injure or kill women seeking abortions, providing sex education in schools, and family planning are also areas in which particular interest must be paid.

Efforts must also be made to sensitize the public on the dangers its negative attitudes would have on those women choosing to have abortions, and how those negative attitudes deter women from going to public facilities.

While morals and codes are normally good things by which to live, these morals and codes should never infringe upon the freedom of others, particularly if that freedom is used to keep a child out of a life of poverty and an unloving home, among several other reasons.