Pregnant mothers who contract the mosquito-borne Zika virus should be offered the option of having their pregnancies terminated.
Former Executive Director of the Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA) George Griffith offered this suggestion today following concerns expressed by the Executive Director of the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago Donna Da Costa Martinez, who made a strong plea to that country’s policymakers to modernize local laws that restrict access to abortion.
Global health organizations have linked Zika to several cases of microcephaly in Brazil, where hundreds of babies are reported to have been born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.
The United States Centers for Disease Control has since advised pregnant women and those likely to get pregnant against travelling to countries where the virus is present.
Griffith told Barbados TODAY a foetus ought not be given priority over “a living, breathing human being” and an expectant mother who contracts the virus should be allowed to abort the child.
He admitted it was a controversial position to adopt, but he suggested it was a reasonable stance.
“We are saying that the health professionals who are interfacing with women who are pregnant and have contracted the Zika virus, the option of terminating the pregnancy should be made available to them. We are not saying that you should force them, but they should be made aware of the implications and the chances of giving birth to a deformed child.
“What we are saying is that at the end of the day the best interest of the mother is what is important. It is controversial to say it, but I am saying the interest of a foetus must not take precedence over the interest of a living, breathing human being,” Griffith argued.
The former family planning administrator said that Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, along with other western hemispheric nations, continued to hold fast to ancient laws enacted by their “colonial masters” in “a by-gone puritanical era”.
He said these very “colonial masters” had since determined that their anti-abortion and homophobic laws were obsolete and no longer relevant “in an enlightened age characterized by adherence to the fundamental rights and freedom of all people”.
The former diplomat and Government Senator contended that no woman should be forced to maintain an unwanted pregnancy or one where the risk was so high that it threatened her physical, emotional or psychological health or socio-economic welfare.
Griffith accused some regional policymakers of continuing “to wage social, psychological and emotional warfare against their vulnerable populations by keeping them shackled to a range of dehumanizing anti-abortion and homophobic laws”.
He argued that these pieces of legislation maintained the threat of criminalization over people’s heads for simply seeking to exercise control over their bodies and their own fertility, as well as exercising their freedom to establish relationships of their own choosing with the partners they love and care for.
However, Griffith made reference to Barbados’ more “liberal” laws, pointing to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act as a measure which makes provision for a woman to terminate a pregnancy under certain conditions.
He said the Act gave Barbadian women freedom over her bodies and fertility.
“In the first trimester the woman and her doctor can agree to the procedure; for the second trimester two doctors and the procedure must be done in an approved clinic, while in the third trimester it must be done in a hospital with the permission of three doctors. So the Act becomes progressively more stringent as the pregnancy becomes more advanced. This explains why Barbados does not have late abortions contrary to what some people would want you to believe,” Griffith stressed. (NC)