The report by the Ministry of Health that there have been 800 reported cases of abortions in 2015 is alarming for a population of only 750,000. In Guyana, abortion has been legal for the past twenty years and while it is free at the public hospitals, it is still a taboo subject that has resulted in many illegal abortions in the country.
It is a very serious and contentious issue. Some do not like it, others believe it is wrong, and many are of the opinion that it should only concern those involved.
The idea of terminating a pregnancy at any time is disturbing to many; loud and passionate opposition to it is understandable. However, it is time for abortion to be discussed sensibly and impartially, without religious prejudices and negative attitudes towards those who may seek it.
Many believe that it is better to terminate a pregnancy than to give birth without the means to take care of that child. Others have claimed that adoption is preferable to abortion especially in cases of rape and incest.
But some are of the opinion that it should be a judgement call based on the prevailing circumstances and only those involved should make the decision to abort or not to.
These points of view have ignored the issue of morality which could affect society. There are some who believe that the foetus feels pain during an abortion and that the procedure is murderous and barbaric. Others have claimed that there is no foetus or heartbeat if abortion is carried out five weeks after a woman becomes pregnant and the procedure is not necessary because not every woman is emotionally scarred after having an abortion.
However, society should not allow abortions to be readily available without proper laws to govern the process. But the laws governing abortion in Guyana are liberal. Religious groups have posited that abortion should only be allowed to save a woman’s life or to preserve her physical or mental health.
Also, the spouse’s consent is required for legal abortion and their prescribed punishment for anyone performing or even attempting the procedure should be imprisonment. This applies to the pregnant woman also.
They do not take into consideration the economic or social situations of the person. Pregnancy could impact negatively on the overall health of women who are in dire financial straits and in difficult social circumstances, such as being unemployed or being in an abusive relationship.
The views expressed by the religious groups could place women, the children that they may give birth to and the society at risk. They will force women to have illegal abortions without any monitoring of the procedure, and the substandard care provided could ultimately result in death.
Children born to immature mothers often suffer. They would raise dysfunctional children and thus the cycle continues. Guyana is a poor country where poverty, unemployment and crime are reportedly increasing, so having unplanned children increases the burden on society.
It also makes it very difficult for single mothers to raise decent and law abiding children. Many are likely to be uneducated and would be involved in juvenile crime, child labor and prostitution.
This is not to say that abortion should be restricted but it should not be used as a primary method of birth control. There should be effective family planning in order to avoid pregnancy and people must be responsible. Also, other options should be made available when pregnancy prevention fails, as it does even with some responsible persons.
Despite the pros and cons on abortion, it is the right of a woman to make informed decisions about her own body. After all, it is her body. It is not her spouse’s and it is certainly not the state’s. The government’s policy on abortion is both a public health and a criminal justice issue, but for women, especially single mothers, it is a gender affairs issue that involved caring, nourishing and feeding their children. There is no escaping it.
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