Abortion laws to come under Cabinet scrutiny

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By Latrishka Thomas

Abortion is a step closer to being legalised under certain circumstances after the Attorney General (AG) said he would bring the matter before Cabinet.

Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin was responding to comments made by gender advocates on Sunday’s ‘Big Issues’ programme on Observer radio.

“I think the time is right here in Antigua, where in an appropriate case, once a medical team makes this recommendation, having studied the incidences of the mother, then it ought to be done,” he said.

The AG said that he would speak with Cabinet colleagues on Wednesday vis-à-vis the abortion law laid out in the Offences Against the Person Act 1873.

He disclosed that the Legal Affairs department has conducted studies on the issue and is of the view that “where the life of the mother is threatened, where is there a rape, that special provisions be made that in those special limited circumstances only that an abortion may be ordered. But that must be done, of course by a board of doctors who would have examined the lady in this instance and made a recommendation.”

He said public consultations would be held before a final decision is made.

“If the government’s policy dictates that that ought to be done, then we initiate discussions publicly … around the country, with the churches, different groups, etc, before a determination is made,” Benjamin stated.

On Sunday, three gender advocates speaking on the discrimination levied against women, broached the topic of the illegality of abortions.

Co-founder of the gender advocacy group, Intersect, Sarah-Anne Gresham, said that legalisation of abortion is “overdue”.

She shared research from a new group in Antigua which found that “83.4 percent of respondents said that the existing abortion law should be amended to include other areas of consideration and 88.5 percent of respondents asserted that women and or couples should be able to decide the best time to plan a family.”

Women’s rights advocate Cecilia Babb also agreed that the right to terminate a pregnancy is one that every woman should have.

Babb said the discussion was archaic since “[in Barbados] medical termination of pregnancy has been legally guaranteed since 1983, or thereabout.”

Meanwhile, the majority of respondents to an Observer poll on Facebook on Monday agreed abortions should be legal.

Many social media users said it should be “a woman’s personal choice.”

Some men also said it was a matter for women to decide based on their individual circumstances.

Up to press time on Monday, around two-thirds of people who voted in the poll agreed it was time for a legal change. Current legislation – unchanged since the 19th century – cites a sentence of up to 10 years for any woman who “procures her own miscarriage”.

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