Jamaican women’s health and rights are compromised or denied because of restrictive legislation and prohibitive costs. This includes stigma, and the personal pain borne by women across class, ethnicity and religious affiliation coming terms with their exercise of choice to terminate a pregnancy.
Mrs Portia Simpson Miller, Most Honourable Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister
Mr Mark Golding, Honourable Minister of Justice, Ministry of Justice
Dr Fenton Ferguson, Honourable Minister of Health
Ms Lisa Hanna, Honourable Minister of Youth, Culture & Sports
Ms Sandrea Falconer, Senator, the Honourable Minister, Information and Gender Affairs
• The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 22,000 abortions are performed in Jamaica each year.
• Complications arising from unsafe abortion are among the top 10 causes of maternal death in the island, especially among teenagers.
• Review of legislation governing abortion has been 30 years in the making. Efforts by various governments to address these concerns have been halted by conservative religious groups not sensitive to the reproductive rights and realities of women, girls, their families and partners.
In Jamaica, Sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Persons Act (1864):
- Criminalise women who chose to terminate a pregnancy, who, if convicted “shall be liable to be imprisoned for life with or without hard labour.”
- Criminalise medical professionals who facilitate a woman’s exercise of choice to have her pregnancy terminated, and the parents and guardians who facilitate termination of pregnancies of girls under the age of 18. If convicted they “shall be liable to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding 3 years with or without hard labour.”
The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (2011) states in Section 12 ( c ) that Laws predating the Charter which relate to, among other things, “offenses regarding the life of the unborn” are not in contravention of the Charter. This provision entrenches discrimination against women by making it extraordinarily difficult to challenge the Offences Against the Person Act (1864). The criminalisation of abortion creates a clandestine environment in which women risk their lives to pursue a private decision. One option is availed by a vibrant but dangerous trade in unregulated abortifacients.
We call on the Government of Jamaica to:
• repeal the sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Persons Act (1864) and Section 12 (c ) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (2011) which contravenes the human rights of many Jamaican citizens, including women and which are not as described in the Charter, “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”
• complete the review process started by the Parliamentary Sub Committee on the draft Termination of Pregnancy Bill in 2009, to enact this vital piece of legislation.
All Jamaican women, particularly women and girls who are highly vulnerable (the poor, rural women, adolescents, and victims of sexual violence) deserve access to legal, safe and affordable abortion services.