Changing Laws and Culture for Safe Abortions.
“No one knew I was in the room. They put me in dark room and pull the curtain. No one attended to me, it was only when a nurse was doing her rounds and checking that she noticed I was there. She pulled the curtain and called out, “Look! It have a woman in here!”
The word ‘Abortion’ leaves chills in the bodies of many when spoken. Although an age old concept, this occurrence is met with scripture and demonisation of people who seek it. The Caribbean, being a body of islands rooted in colonial religion, has caused governments, and state leaders to ignore their fulfillment of human rights.
Abortion is the termination of pregnancy. There are two types of abortions, medical, where a pill, prescribed by a doctor can be taken and in-clinic abortion, where it is done by a trained medical practitioner.
September 28th, marks the declaration of Safe Abortion Day every year which serves as a day to reflect and check in on the progress countries have made to ensure that gestating persons have access to safe abortions. Being able to have power over one’s body and self is often taken for granted. Typically women and girls have always had decisions made for them and their bodies, particularly in the realm of healthcare. In other places, being able to access adequate and affordable healthcare is a myth and so many people end up suffering.
Photographed by Rafael Idrovo Espinoza
In Caribbean society, there is also a lack of sensitisation to issues that affect our sexual and reproductive health and rights. There are beliefs that comprehensive sexuality education will lead to increased sexual activity and that access to safe abortion services will increase the rates of abortions but rather these two services will allow for safe and comfortable exploration in both of them.
In Trinidad and Tobago, women from backgrounds of poverty feel the brunt of the lack of CSE and Abortion legalisation. Healthcare institutions which offer abortion services on the low have steep prices which means that only people of a certain class are able to access it. The alternative, women are either forced to carry unwanted pregnancies full term or find someone to do a “back-alley” abortion which can be fatal.
“The nurse roughed me up. She said, “alyuh like to do alyuh thing and come here after.”
It is not uncommon that healthcare workers do not uphold their oaths. Being a state with a religious belly means that for many, personal beliefs and praxis override compassion and obligation. To some, there is no acceptable reason to engage in the act of abortion- it is a fair bargain to lose a life if you take another; a barbarian concept of the Babylonian law.
Ensuring that governments recognise the extent to which their commitment to health care and sexual and reproductive health and rights for all is crucial to legalising abortion. But it would be naive to think that legislation will overturn attitude and commitment. Civil Society, the state and individuals with influence must engage in a robust curriculum development and behavioral change programmes in order to shift the culture that exists in the Caribbean that does not believe that abortion is health care or valid. Legislation and cultural shift must go hand in hand to make this happen.
In 2020, Argentina passed their Abortion Law, making abortion legal up to the 14th week of pregnancy. And whilst this groundbreaking move was celebrated months ago, there is now a struggle for gestating persons to access abortion care. In an article by the Executive Director of Amnesty International, Argentina, Mariela Belskit, she wrote, “An additional challenge faced by citizens who want to access this service is that Argentina is a federal state in which each of the 24 jurisdictional authorities is free to determine their own health policies.”
This serves as a crucial reminder of the hard work that advocates continue to put into to ensure human rights but also a call to governments around the globe to notice how far we are from achieving gender equity. The work and advocacy does not end at a law being passed but continues way after to ensure effective and accessible implementation.
Abortion is health care and having safe access to it not only upholds our human rights but ensures that we are given choice and agency.
For more resources and further reading, check out:
The Breadfruit Collective, Guyana
Abortion 101 Guide by Feminitt Caribbean