Relaxing the abortion law
The headline screamed that the public hospitals would soon be performing abortions. The argument is that too many women are dying as a result of botched abortions. And it is no secret that this is indeed the case.
Last year, a young Mon Repos woman died of septaecemia following an abortion at a private clinic. The person performing the abortion had put up a shingle advertising the fact that he was a doctor and was duly certified. What he did not say was that there was not an adequate supporting staff.
Indeed, in 1995 there was a conscious vote in the National Assembly because abortion had become a critical issue. Surveys revealed that women were using abortion as a means of contraception. Some were using drugs in a do-it-yourself scheme and some were going to bottom-house abortionists where unsterilised pieces of equipment and other dangerous instruments were used.
Women simply kept dying. It was as though these young women were not aware of the dangers of illegal abortions. Of course, there was a time prior to the 1995 vote when abortions were illegal. Women either died or became sterile. Many were the voices to express regret at the decision to undergo an illegal abortion.
When it was announced that the nation was contemplating saving the lives of the hapless women, the church came out and threatened the ruling party with its vote. Abortion had become a political issue. There were campaigns against; activists in the church mounted demonstrations and held public forums. Some took to the airwaves to complain that abortion was murder, that a foetus was a life and that it had every right to life.
Indeed, there were counter protests. Women’s organisations made it known that the woman should be in control of her body, that the foetus was a parasite to be tolerated at the whim of the woman. The debate was furious, but it was the political threat that forced the government of the day to put forward a legislation that clearly showed that the church had a powerful voice.
Rather than protect the hapless woman, President Bharrat Jagdeo caused to be tabled a piece of legislation that stated that taxpayers’ money would not be used to fund an abortion. However, he did also cause to be placed in the legislation that the public institutions had the right to correct botched abortions.
The parliamentarians were not bound to vote along party lines, but the church was not done with applying pressure. The protesters vowed to sit in parliament and make a note of how every member voted. Thankfully, this did not faze most of the people and the vote was carried. Abortion was now legal in Guyana, but only at private institutions.
Those performing abortions were required to counsel the person seeking the abortion; wait a few days to ensure that the person really wanted the abortion, and to keep a record of every abortion. We later found out that the rule was observed more in the breach. Most of the abortionists could not take the time to counsel anyone.
But there was another side to this. Many women wanted the anonymity and therefore did not seek the more established doctors, because they did not want to be documented. The result is that they continue to end up at the public institutions, victims of botched abortions.
Perhaps the numbers of suffering women have reached epidemic proportions; perhaps there are too many instances of the victims complaining of not having money to pay the private clinics. The result is that after nearly two decades there is to be a review; the victims of botched abortions are refusing to identify the abortionists.
This decision gives rise to other questions. Have the religionists become reconciled that there will always be abortions? Have they been shocked by the number of botched abortions? Have they lost interest in the abortion debate?
What is known is that with the public institutions performing abortions, the question of cost to the already cash-strapped woman does not therefore arise. We all know that for one reason or the other, most of the people who seek abortions are those from the lower income bracket.