I read comments in a section of the press attributed to you on the issue of abortion. Since I did not see a distancing or retraction of the comments, I assume the media categorized your thoughts correctly. Consequently, I wanted to use this forum to share a few thoughts of my own with you.
The first thing I wondered about is how you would ever have a way of knowing how many abortions are conducted on a daily basis in Barbados. While the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in Barbados makes provision for the Minister to provide provisions for records of abortions to be kept, I am completely unaware of this being done, specifically in private doctors’ offices on the island.
In the absence of data collection, how did you come to know how many abortions were being done on the island and whether that number was in fact enough to contribute to declining population levels? Also, I wondered if your daily average of abortions included only induced abortions or spontaneous abortion.
Spontaneous abortion, more commonly called miscarriage, sometimes occurs undetected to even the woman carrying the pregnancy. It is a completely natural process and requires no reporting at all. Thus, I wondered how you accounted for spontaneous abortion in tallying the daily rate of abortions in Barbados.
You asserted that abortions were responsible for the decline of population in Barbados as an unchallengeable fact. I wondered where the comparative data for that very bold statement came from. How far back in Barbados’ history did you go? The reality is that women throughout the history of Barbados and the Commonwealth Caribbean have used herbs and poultices to have abortions.
There have been, at some points of history, more crude methods of inducing abortions. We will never know what the rate of abortion was at any historical point before the passage of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1983 – and as I noted above, even then we have not done a stellar job of data collection. If we do not know whether our historical levels of population were without abortions counted, there is no basis to compare now to then.
Moreover, there is another very significant measure which, as far as I know, has never been calculated for Barbados and without which you cannot convincingly link abortion rates to population decline. Barbados has no measures related to fecundity rates or monitors of it over time. The more serious problem may not be that women who end up with an unwanted pregnancy opt to get rid of it, but that women who want to have children cannot conceive.
Barbados, over the years, has remained high on the list of countries whose population is significantly affected by non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Many of these NCDs have an impact on a person’s fertility.
In many cases, medicines taken for NCDs come with a warning about not conceiving or high levels of risk for complication in pregnancy. I think there can be an easier case made for our levels of NCDs to be the cause of declining population rates than the abortion rate.
You listed three reasons for women wanting to have abortions. All three of the reasons were external to the woman’s own agency of choice. I accept your charge that some women have abortions because their partners do not want the pregnancy. I also accept that some women have abortions because of the financial burden of caring for pregnancy and then subsequently a child.
In the case where a mother makes a financial decision to terminate a pregnancy, I wonder what can be the real benefit of a charity supporting her through changing her mind. I wonder what the scope and magnitude of that type of help looks like. I wonder because due to the systematic oppression of women and many of them in Barbados never managing to move beyond working class, the decision to bring a pregnancy to term for such a woman is not a nine-month one but a lifetime one.
What do we want? Just numbers for increasing the population? Or a healthy, happy population that can be productive and contribute to the growth of Barbados? If we want the former, we can invest in talking women out of abortions, but the latter involves a lot more social planning to ensure that women who choose motherhood can do so safely and in a way that produces well balanced citizens.
You note that some women have abortions because their parents force them to. I think this is an especially egregious reason for a termination of pregnancy, and I agree that we should minimize the possibility for this kind of coercion. Thus, I am anxious to hear what work your charity is doing to ensure that the age of medical consent is brought in line with the age of sexual consent. This will ensure that a woman seen as mature enough to consent to sex can also then be left responsible to decide what medical course she wishes to take with a pregnancy.
I am alarmed and disappointed though, that as a woman who has made a choice to fight for what you believe in – pro-life – that you did not acknowledge in your article that other women have that same right. Many women have abortions because they choose to.
They fall pregnant in whatever circumstance and opt not to carry through the pregnancy. I feel as though any movement that seeks to take that choice away is retrograde and patriarchal. I too see myself as a pro-lifer. I am pro the life of the woman who has to subject her body to a pregnancy and then figure out the next 18 years of moulding a life.
Wouldn’t you agree it is complicated?
Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women.