Termination of pregnancy: Let the woman decide and support her
“The government must not allow itself to be swayed by arguments that belong to the middle ages and that do not take into account contemporary complex social realities, and medical and scientific advances that have allowed women to be less subjected to the dictates of cloaked men who do not understand women’s bodies and their needs… Abortion is about the extermination of life. Termination of pregnancy is about relieving the mental anguish of women or potentially saving them from death: either they would otherwise have to face lifelong stigma at best, or at worst run the risk of complications resulting from abortion carried out by backstreet practitioners under unhygienic and unsafe conditions. Many of them lose their lives in the process, leaving behind orphaned children and widowed husbands.
Despite official statistics published around the world, nobody knows for certain exactly how many women die from abortions carried out each year. What is sure is that the statistics are an underestimate. Further, the victims are mostly from the poorer sections of society. The well-to-do can afford to pay for having their terminations done under the best conditions. Many of them travel to other countries to do so: Americans go to Mexico, the French go to Belgium or Spain, the Irish to London and so on.
It will be noticed that the travellers come from Catholic countries, and go to other Catholic or Christian countries where termination of pregnancy is legalised. The official position of the Catholic Church is therefore in contradiction to the reality amongst those who claim to be Catholics.
This, of course, is nothing new, for it has been known for a long time that the practice among Catholics differs from the official stand of the Church in matters relating to sex and reproduction in particular. Having sex for other than procreative purposes is a continuation of the Original Sin according to Catholic doctrine: in practice, most human beings – including Catholics — have sex both for enjoyment and bonding as well as for procreation. Reason and healthy emotions overrule dogma, and modernity in the form of contraception has allowed people to trump religious prejudice and dogma in the matter of sex.
So the debate about termination of pregnancy by medical means is about reason versus dogma. That is why people who use their reason employ the term medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) whereas those who exploit the fears and ignorance of women impose their rigid dogmatic views.
This issue has come to the fore again following the announcement of government’s proposal to amend the Criminal Code Act so as to allow the medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) in specific cases. As has happened before, the Catholic Church, which is violently opposed to any form of regulation of this practice, has triggered its response in the media through intermediaries, besides the declaration made by its official spokesman Bishop Piat.
There is nothing surprising or new in his pronouncement, which merely reiterates the known view of the Vatican. That view is rejected by many modern Catholics who, as indicated above, resort to MTP freely in jurisdictions where this is allowed. Similarly for contraceptive use by girls in several countries, notably one of the most rigidly (officially) Catholic, namely Ireland, where for years contraceptive pills have been dispensed over the counter to such girls, without the need for parental consent. We are not passing any judgement in this matter, only putting forward as information what actually takes place on the ground.
It is important also to note that the Bishop is speaking only on behalf of Catholics, and Mauritians of other faiths, and indeed the government too, are not bound in any way by his views. However, it is expected of government that it adopts a more comprehensive approach to this issue, by which is meant taking into consideration the views of all stakeholders, but even more essentially examine the objective evidence that is provided by medical and health authorities in various countries and the global scene presented by the World Health Organisation, so as to be guided in taking the right decision in the interest of women who find themselves under great physical, domestic and social stress. At the end of the day, the bottomline for any enlightened government cannot be other than: absolute respect for the decision made by any woman, which is her right, and support for that decision.
Coming to MTP, we all know that it is sought in at least three categories of cases:
1. Unplanned and unwanted pregnancy in married couples and minors whose partner may be minor or adult;
2. Unwanted pregnancy in cases of rape or incest; and
3. Pregnancy which puts at great risk the life of the mother or the future unborn child.
In the first group, there is no question of the law allowing MTP. The subjects must assume their responsibility fully, and in the case of minors with the support of the responsible parties.
In second group, the woman – in case of minors, with the help of the responsible party – must be given the appropriate advice by those concerned, namely lay and religious bodies, and medical authorities. If the woman decides to keep the pregnancy, the matter is resolved. If she decides not to keep the pregnancy, then the state’s duty is to ensure that this decision is honoured by the provision of the adequate regulatory and medical infrastructure to allow MTP, preceded and followed by psychological counselling which must be provided for.
In the third group, the same reasoning and process as for the second one applies when the woman decides for MTP.
Three elements are crucial in any legislation on MTP: defining clearly the types of cases in which it will be allowed, provision of the framework and infrastructure to allow safe practice, and counselling. Any government that ensures these will be acting in the interest of its country’s womenfolk and giving them the necessary protection under the circumstances. Most importantly, it will save them from the hands of backstreet abortionists who put their lives in danger.
The government must not allow itself to be swayed by arguments that belong to the middle ages and that do not take into account contemporary complex social realities, and medical and scientific advances that have allowed women to be less subjected to the dictates of cloaked men who do not understand women’s bodies and their needs.