By Latrishka Thomas
Bishop Charlesworth Browne is warning legislators that they will become “murderers” if they pass any laws that would make abortions legal.
The President of the Antigua and Barbuda Council of Church Leaders told Observer that he is maintaining this position on the matter, because “life is sacred”.
“We did not give life and we can’t take it away. Whether it is a situation of capital punishment or abortion, it is not right. I stand by it and, as a matter of fact, to destroy a foetus is actually taking a life. It is feticide,” Bishop Browne said.
He added that, “our elected officials, they are to serve, protect and empower; not to destroy life, or not to sit to see how they could cleverly come up with ideas to destroy life, and especially the unborn”.
This discourse on abortion came shortly after Attorney General Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin indicated that the existing abortion law will be tabled in Parliament, where he will propose that provisions be made for special circumstances, such as rape or a threat to the mother’s life.
And, on Sunday, experts speaking on the matter suggested that adjusting the law would give vulnerable women access to safe medical procedures, irrespective of their circumstances.
The panellists were of the view that the existing law as laid out in the Offences Against the Person Act (1873) does not act as a deterrent, but rather, inadvertently, perpetuates criminality.
Management specialist and former University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer, Fred Nunes said that by refusing to amend the abortion laws, regional governments are causing more harm to women with limited financial means.
“Women of means have no [problem in getting] a safe abortion anywhere in the Caribbean, or of getting on a plane and having it somewhere else. So, it is only a problem for poor women,” Nunes said.
The former lecturer, who has deep interest in women’s reproductive health – and has spearheaded successful abortion reform laws in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago – also referenced research conducted in Trinidad and Tobago in 2000, which revealed that unsafe abortions had cost the government more than $1 million per month.
He remarked, “We shouldn’t think of abortion law as being legal or illegal. It is much more nuanced than that.
“You can have abortion laws which permit access only to save the life of the woman, or only to save life and her health – physical and mental – or because of a mental condition, or because of a social condition, to treat the woman with respect and to recognise that an abortion is a last resort.”
Furthermore, retired UWI trained physician Dr Yvette Delph added that in countries where abortion is illegal, women are placed in very vulnerable situations and resort to using “hangers, knitting needles, different solutions like Dettol and home brews”, to induce abortion.
As a result, these women also face medical complications such as “excessive bleeding, infection, severe sepsis
can result in damage to the cervix, the womb, perforation of the womb, and damage to internal organs … resulting in infertility.”
Last Friday, police shared their concerns for the wellbeing of a mother after a foetus was discarded in a paper bag among garbage in the Perry Bay area.
Sanitation workers from the National Solid Waste Management Authority made the discovery shortly after 10am in the vicinity of Hoppers Playing Field.