"Ending the silent pandemic of unsafe abortion is an urgent public-health and human-rights imperative. As with other more visible global-health issues, this scourge threatens women throughout the developing world. Every year, about 19�20 million abortions are done by individuals without the requisite skills, or in environments below minimum medical standards, or both. Nearly all unsafe abortions (97 per cent) are in developing countries. An estimated 68,000 women die as a result, and millions more have complications, many permanent.
Important causes of death include haemorrhage, infection, and poisoning. Legalisation of abortion on request is a necessary but insufficient step toward improving women's health; in some countries, such as India, where abortion has been legal for decades, access to competent care remains restricted because of other barriers. Access to safe abortion improves women's health, and vice versa, as documented in Romania during the regime of President Nicolae Ceausescu." –Unsafe abortion: the preventable pandemic, a WHO Journal paper by David A Grimes, Janie Benson, Susheela Singh, Mariana Romero, Bela Ganatra, Friday E Okonofua, Iqbal H Shah
Hypocrisy is not a crime. In this country it's not even a shame. We are boldfaced champions of hypocrisy, condemning with our mouths what we live with our hearts. While incumbent Minister of Works and Transport Colm Imbert shouts from the hustings for his political opponent Kamla Persad-Bissessar to declare her position on abortion, women continue to suffer unnecessarily because of the country's barbaric position on that issue.
Nobody said abortion was a simple topic. There are many levels of discussion we could engage in regarding this: medical concerns are paramount but hardly solitary. As Minister Imbert implied in his address on Monday in Princes Town, there is a moral and religious perspective that is a huge part of how many people view the topic. By his remarks one can infer that he sees it as a morally and religiously reprehensible act to terminate a pregnancy.
I say it is morally and ethically reprehensible to allow unsafe abortion to continue in this country. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence in the public domain point to a dramatic relationship between illegally procured abortions and the rate of maternal morbidity and mortality. Our women, regardless of the law, continue to seek and have abortions by any means, and they continue to suffer ill effects afterwards. These ill effects are not because of the danger of the procedure itself. A termination by a practised doctor in a medically safe environment is not especially dangerous. On the other hand, a partial abortion induced by a drug taken outside of medical supervision could be fatal. Aspire continues to trumpet that abortion is legal in T&T to preserve the life and health of the mother. Yet, however loudly it shouts, voices such as the minister's drown out its words. Safe abortion to all intents and purposes remains illegal and out of the reach of the many, many women who seek them.
The consequence is women suffering infections and haemorrhaging, sometimes with lasting consequences for their health and fertility, and an always-high number of women seeking hospitalisation and other treatment for procedures that were improperly or incompletely done by chemical or physical means. The WHO states in the above-mentioned document that a fifth to half of women who seek unsafe abortion will be hospitalised. Unsafe abortion, the document says, accounts for 17 per cent of maternal deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean. Unsafe abortion, in other words, kills women. "Increasing legal access to abortion is associated with improvement in sexual and reproductive health. Conversely, unsafe abortion and related mortality are both highest in countries with narrow grounds for legal abortion."
Mr Imbert will never have to choose between keeping a baby and keeping a husband. He will never have to choose between a pregnancy and his mental stability. He will never have to face the idea of one more child in a home already crowded with hungry mouths. Even in the most ideal situation, where a woman is happily married, healthy and well provisioned, sometimes a pregnancy is not wanted. Women should have the right to end those pregnancies. This might not be a popular opinion, stated so baldly. Even Aspire hesitates to couch its advocacy in such terms. But the basis of that advocacy is that it is the right of a woman to chose whether or not she will carry a pregnancy to term. Moralists like to think of legalising abortion as some kind of floodgates, which, if opened, would drown the country in a foetal bloodbath. The truth is the opposite.
Legalising and making abortion available in the public health system does not typically lead to a higher rate of abortion, it seems. Making abortion legal, safe, and accessible does not appreciably increase demand. Instead, the principal effect is shifting previously clandestine, unsafe procedures to legal and safe ones. Hence, governments need not worry that the costs of making abortion safe will overburden the healthcare infrastructure.
Countries that liberalised their abortion laws such as Barbados, Canada, South Africa, Tunisia, and Turkey did not have an increase in abortion. By comparison, the Netherlands, which has unrestricted access to free abortion and contraception, has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world.
(Unsafe abortion: the preventable pandemic)
The document from which I've quoted is not the only one that exists. Aspire has written some of its own, using local information. I've used this one because of a sentence in it that caught me: "The underlying causes of this global pandemic are apathy and disdain for women; they suffer and die because they are not valued." It rings a bell. Friday night the Prime Minister, from the hustings too, dismissed "women's issues" and quickly moved on to talking oil and gas. Women are not men. Oil and gas might pay the bills for now, but until and unless we address the issue of unsafe abortion half our population will face an unequal share of neglect.