Tobago House of Assembly Secretary for Health Dr Faith B. Yisrael says she will support access to reproductive rights, information and fair treatment for females, even if it costs her politically.
Dr B. Yisrael made the comment at the opening of the Trinidad and Tobago branch of the International Planned Parenthood Federation- Americas and the Caribbean Region (IPPF-ACRO) office at the Trincity Business Park on Thursday.
B. Yisrael described herself as an advocate for access, information and fair treatment while speaking to journalists after the ribbon was cut to officially open the IPPF-ACRO office.
“I would say as an individual who has actually lived in the United States for over ten years, as someone who has actually used the services of family planning, I am happy that those...that the capacity to do that is also available here in Trinidad and Tobago,” she said.
The IPPF-ACRO office will be based in two locations, Colombia and Trinidad & Tobago. The parent IPPF organisation is based in 140 countries and provides sex education, contraception and maternal care.
In countries where legal, it also provides access to safe abortion, which is only permissible in this country in cases where pregnancy would endanger the mother’s life, or if carrying the child to term would harm her mental health.
According to the Offences Against the Body Act, a woman who attempts to procure an abortion is liable to four years imprisonment, and the person who supplies “any poison or other noxious thing, or any instrument or thing whatsoever, knowing that the same is intended to be unlawfully used or employed with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she is or is not with child, is liable to imprisonment for two years.”
When asked her position on abortion in Trinidad and Tobago, Dr B. Yisrael said the law did not prevent women from accessing abortion, noting they sometimes risked their health in the process.
“We have to really, really consider whether the laws that we have in place, whether they really work, whether they really are the best. Whether we need to think about the needs of vulnerable people in a way that makes it safe for them, and makes it safe for their families,” she said.
The Health Secretary, who has a Master’s and a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degrees in Behavioural and Community Health Sciences, was asked if she was concerned that attending the launch and giving public support to the IPPF-ACRO would hurt her politically. She seemed unfazed, saying, “The people will speak.”
But the Health Secretary also said when she speaks to young people, they are clearly interested in sex education and want the information.
She said many of these young people are already grappling with difficult decisions related to their sexual activity and sexual health.
But on the question of whether Tobago is prepared to lead Trinidad on access to abortion, B. Yisrael said Tobago had demonstrated a willingness to do the things that most people were not willing to do and if a policy needed to be made, then the PDP-led THA administration would be willing to make it.
“Our Chief Secretary has shown that we are willing to stand up and that we are willing to speak about things that even Central Government has not been willing to do,” she said.
B. Yisrael was at the event to support her friend Dona Da Costa Martinez, who has been installed as deputy director of the IPPF-ACRO office based in Trinidad.