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  • Pro-abortion campaigners demand less restrictive abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland Mar. 8, 2017.

    Pro-abortion campaigners demand less restrictive abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland Mar. 8, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 February 2019

Parliament is debating legislation that would legalize abortions caused by rape or incest. Some church leaders in the conservative country are on board.

In Jamaica, women can be thrown in jail for life for having an abortion, but the island country is contemplating legislation to loosen its abortion rights law to allow women to terminate their pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

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Each year in Jamaica about 22,000 women are forced into receiving life-threatening clandestine abortions, as happened to Anna-Kay who told Reuters she got an abortion during her second year of college.

“I wasn’t in a position physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially to be pregnant. It was a very, very lonely time,” said Anna-Kay who is now 30 years old speaking under a pseudonym.

“It was a difficult decision for me.”

Currently, abortions are only legal in Jamaica when a woman’s life is at risk or to preserve her mental and physical health, according to the Offences Against the Persons Act in the Caribbean nation. Even those who assist in the process can be jailed for up to three years.

According to most recent figures, a 2007 government-commissioned study unsafe abortions to be the third leading cause of maternal mortality among women in the nation of 2.9 million people.

A bill presented last June by parliament member Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn of the majority Jamaica Labour Party to decriminalize abortion in the case of incest or rape is currently being debated by lawmakers.

Church leaders of the conservative, majority Christian country are at odds though regarding the abortion measure. In late January, churches were invited to present their views to Jamaica’s special committee. They told the press after their meeting that abortion is “killing” and they wouldn’t allow for it under any circumstances.

However, while Associate General Secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union (JBU), Reverend Merlyn Hyde-Riley said last week that the JBU affirms human life ... in all its forms," she added: "In certain cases, such as a case where a mother's life is at risk, one would have to contemplate seriously, what is the best course of action, and so we would not simply say we are pro-life or we are not pro-life, because it is, in our view, not simply a black and white situation. It must be treated sensitively and in a caring and compassionate manner."

Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Pastor Ted Wilson went as far as to say "Most Seventh Day Adventists … are not in favour of abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger or perhaps there was incest or rape involved, and that is left to the individual to decide" Wilson said earlier this month.

A 2018 survey found 58 percent of Jamaicans supported amending the law to allow abortions following incest, says Reuters.

Cuthbert-Flynn said women needed to have safe options, especially poor women, who are disproportionately affected by the law because they can’t afford to pay for a safe, though illicit procedure.

“There is a life sentence attached to (having an abortion), and those are punitive measures that definitely need to be repealed,” Cuthbert-Flynn told Reuters.

Parliament will also hear final input from the public after which the Prime Minister’s office will decide next steps regarding the bill.

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