Abortion: A Question of Morality?


The issue of morality as it relates to sexual health is once again at hand in the Caribbean state of Barbados. In the firing range this time is the Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA), coming under attack for publicly highlighting its provision of services such as abortion as well as counselling for those who have chosen to terminate their pregnancies. At the center of the controversy are news publications regarding the BFPA’s counselling services, as well as a press release regarding the association’s receipt of an award from the regional council of the International Planned Parenting Federation for “outstanding achievement in the area of safe abortion/termination.”

Focusing on morality in discussions regarding sexual and reproductive health care is potentially dangerous. The issue of what is considered to be right and wrong and/or appropriate versus inappropriate is a highly subjective one, influenced by variables such as class, race, philosophical beliefs, and gender. In the Caribbean, where our belief system has been so forcibly shaped by Christianity, a culture has emerged in which women who choose to terminate their pregnancies are typically seen to have committed a punishable act against God.

In Jamaica, there is a saying that women who are “barren” are being punished for having “dash ‘way babies” (had abortions). Such views are not limited to Jamaica and can be found throughout the region, and they do have potentially adverse effects on women’s access to safe sexual care. Women, and adolescent females, may opt out of safer alternatives for terminating their pregnancies for fear of being judged, choosing instead to utilize unsafe alternatives that may endanger their lives. More importantly, such attitudes help to foster a climate of fear and secrecy, thereby compromising women’s sexual health.

By linking abortion with sin, women who take this route are cast in the role of the sinner. Despite steps taken by many Caribbean nations towards ensuring women’s right to safely terminate their pregnancies, cultural debates which pit abortion against God omit two key factors from the debate: (i) women’s right to choose, and (ii) the psychological, social and emotional impacts of their choices – whatever they may be.

The provision of access to abortions is not the same as encouraging people to terminate their pregnancies. There are a number of reasons why people choose not to give birth. It is simplistic to say that the issue can easily be solved by the use of condoms, abstinence or other forms of birth control. The complexity of gender often leaves many women feeling that these are not choices that they can make, so to negate their experiences, while chastising them for their choices leaves a large number of women twice marginalized.

In a cultural context in which women’s value is so greatly tied to their fulfillment of the maternal role, females who for one reason or another choose not to become mothers are seen to be abhorrent, and morality is often a key factor in this designation.

The decision to terminate pregnancy is a serious one, not to be taken lightly. Without doubt there must be a heavy focus on counselling alongside the provision of safe services, with emphasis being placed on the social, psychological and spiritual health of the mother. A rights-based approach centralizes women’s needs, while helping them to explore all of their options, and helping them to make the decision that is best, not only for their children, but for themselves.

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  • invalid-0

    And quit using euphemisms. I think if you tell people what the choice is in plain language, it’s more honest. Because, after all, the choice isn’t whether or not to have your wisdom teeth taken out. Lives are at stake. Written another way and avoiding euphemisms, your opinion becomes much clearer:

    By linking abortion with sin, women who take this route are cast in the role of the sinner. Despite steps taken by many Caribbean nations towards ensuring women’s right to safely kill their children, cultural debates which pit abortion against God omit two key factors from the debate: (i) women’s right to choose whether or not to kill their children, and (ii) the psychological, social and emotional impacts of their choices – whatever they may be.

    The provision of access to abortions is not the same as encouraging people to kill their children. There are a number of reasons why people choose to kill their children. It is simplistic to say that the issue can easily be solved by the use of condoms, abstinence or other forms of birth control. The complexity of gender often leaves many women feeling that these are not choices that they can make, so to negate their experiences, while chastising them for their choices (to kill their children) leaves a large number of women twice marginalized.

    In a cultural context in which women’s value is so greatly tied to their fulfillment of the maternal role, females who for one reason or another choose not to become mothers by killing their children are seen to be abhorrent, and morality is often a key factor in this designation.

    The decision to kill your child is a serious one, not to be taken lightly. Without doubt there must be a heavy focus on counselling alongside the provision of safe services, with emphasis being placed on the social, psychological and spiritual health of the mother. A rights-based approach centralizes women’s needs, while helping them to explore all of their options, and helping them to make the decision that is best, not only for their children (so, you finally decided to use the word “children” after all this time), but for themselves.

  • danielle-toppin

    Now that women have been designated as 'murderers' where does this approach really take us towards helping them to understand the range of choices available to them; make the best decision for themselves; and to enable them to make more informed sexual decisions in the future?

  • invalid-0

    It can take us to the same place where we were after slavery was condemned. Plantation owners who owned slaves probably considered themselves good businessmen and contributors to the economy, using what resources were available for the lowest cost. And I’m sure that some non-slave owners even considered themselves “pro-choice” regarding slavery – they would never own a slave themselves, but they could never presume to tell someone else they couldn’t own a slave. Once the civil war ended and slavery was seen as immoral and made illegal, I’m sure many plantation owners went out of business. However, for some it forced them to consider the range of choices other than slavery in order to successfully operate their plantations. With slavery no longer an option, it enabled them to make better (and more moral) business decisions in the future.
    Remember, just because something is legal (e.g., slavery, apartheid) doesn’t make it moral or right. Eventually, the truth will prevail and evil will be seen for what it is. Murder can never be justified, no matter what name it is given.

  • invalid-0

    It can take us to the same place where we were after slavery was condemned. Plantation owners who owned slaves probably considered themselves good businessmen and contributors to the economy, using what resources were available for the lowest cost. And I’m sure that some non-slave owners even considered themselves “pro-choice” regarding slavery – they would never own a slave themselves, but they could never presume to tell someone else they couldn’t own a slave. Once the civil war ended and slavery was seen as immoral and made illegal, I’m sure many plantation owners went out of business. However, for some it forced them to consider the range of choices other than slavery in order to successfully operate their plantations. With slavery no longer an option, it enabled them to make better (and more moral) business decisions in the future.
    Remember, just because something is legal (e.g., slavery, apartheid) doesn’t make it moral or right. Eventually, the truth will prevail and evil will be seen for what it is. Murder can never be justified, no matter what name it is given.

  • http://www.equineshine.com invalid-0

    Please, continue to use the suffering of sentient human beings to justify making women prisoners to the contents of their uteri. In your little world, women should lose all rights to control over our bodies the instant we become pregnant – and yet WE the are the ones compared to slaveholders? Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

  • invalid-0

    Choose Life, why do you continue equating the topic of abortion with that of slavery? Am I missing something?
    I believe that since the foetus did not make the choice to be or not be created, it should be given a chance to survive, but let’s be realistic – some women’s physical and mental health do not allow them to safely give birth and in many cases, their economic status and living conditions do not allow them the luxury of nurturing themselves, far less a child. Yes, we can probably say that in such cases abstinence and/or safe sex should be practiced but we are flesh and blood and the majority of us have fallen and will continue to fall prey to the needs of the flesh. In such cases, isn’t it kinder to abort the foetus? And the word is ‘abort’ and not ‘murder’.

  • invalid-0

    If we, as women, are castigated for using technology to terminate an unwanted life in our bodies because life is “against the will of god”, why is it legal to use any technology (and thousands of dollars) to artificially create life in our bodies, which is, according to this argument, NOT “the will of god”?

  • invalid-0

    I equate the topic of abortion with that of slavery because in both cases, human rights are violated. Slaves (humans) do not choose to be slaves any more than fetuses (human babies) choose to die.
    Since you believe the fetus did not make the choice to be or not be created, it should be given a chance to survive, what does a surviving fetus look like? Would that be a baby? Why are unwanted babies called fetuses? It’s because when you dehumanize a human being, it makes it that much easier to take away his or her rights (slavery), or kill it (abortion).
    Abort is defined as “to terminate pregnancy prematurely.” So, to murder someone is “to terminate their life prematurely” (you’re right, that DOES sound better!).
    To say “in such cases, isn’t it kinder to abort the fetus?” I guess I’ve never thought of murder as being kind. What would be kinder is to let nature run it’s course, have the baby, and then give the baby up for adoption.

  • invalid-0

    Continue to use the suffering of sentient human beings to justify making women prisoners to the contents of their uteri? You make it sound like the “contents of a pregnant woman’s uterus” is something other than a sentient (experiencing feeling or sensation) human being. Check out an abortion viewed with an ultrasound and tell me the baby doesn’t suffer or feel or sense anything during this horrific procedure.
    In my little world, women should never lose their rights to control their own bodies. However, the instant a woman becomes pregnant, there are two bodies involved, not just one. Everyone knows that a human being cannot survive having two different blood types, but that babies very often have a different blood type than their mothers.
    Before slavery was condemned and made illegal, slave owners never denied that their slaves felt pain or suffered, they just didn’t care. The only reason you deny that a baby doesn’t feel pain or suffer during an abortion is because of your ignorance of what goes on during an abortion. If you ever get the opportunity, watch an ultrasound of one of your pregnant friends who is planning on having their baby. It is amazing. Absolutely amazing!

  • invalid-0

    I’m curious as to what your experience being pregnant is? Ever been pregnant? Have you ever seen an ultrasound of a woman who is 6 weeks pregnant? What about 8 weeks? 12 weeks? Likely not because women who decide to keep their babies, and have access to affordable medical care, generally don’t have ultrasounds until at least 17 or 18 weeks into their pregnancy. Likely, those are the ultrasounds you have seen. As a woman who has birthed two children and worked in an abortion clinic, I’ll give you the real picture.

    If you compare the ultrasound of a 6 week old embryo (and I’ve seen many) to an ultrasound of a fetus at 18 weeks you’re barely looking at the same image. And, by the way, at the clinic I worked for, every woman was offered the chance to see her ultrasound before making her decision about whether or not to have an abortion. Of those women who did view the ultrasound (and 92% of abortions are performed before 12 weeks), I don’t remember a single woman deciding not to have the abortion because of what she saw.

    Again, arguments about the fact that there is something live growing in a woman’s uterus and so therefore women shouldn’t have abortions are absurd – as if women don’t know that?! The majority of women who have abortions are already mothers – they have already had ultrasounds, they know what it’s like to be pregnant and birth a baby – they don’t need someone whose never experienced either telling them what they should and shouldn’t feel or do.

    There are very few women who access abortion who don’t know that there is an actual, live embryo growing inside of them. The issue at hand is whether the woman’s body should be used, against her will, to grow and then birth another person – should the woman be forced to carry a pregnancy? The law clearly states that women should NOT be forced to carry that pregnancy until viability and, after viability, only if the health or life of the mother is at stake. Women do not enter into the decision to have an abortion lightly.

    You can “argue” that your friend’s ultrasounds were amazing and ask whether the millions of women who have accessed abortion have “ever seen an ultrasound?!” but ultimately it’s about so much more than that. When a woman decides it is the right time to carry a pregnancy to term and birth a baby, she will – women who have abortions and women who have babies are the same women at different points in their lives.

  • invalid-0

    Actually, I have seen an ultrasound at 12 weeks where the baby was aborted (www.silentscream.org).

    At the clinic you worked for, if you had shown this particular video, I wonder how many women would have decided not to have an abortion because of what they saw.

    To limit the abortion debate to only those who have experienced what it’s like to be pregnant and birth a baby is absurd. It’s like saying only those who have used and been addicted to heroin can really determine whether or not it should be made legal or illegal.

    “Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not put forth under socially impeccable auspices.” – “A New Ethic for Medicine and Society,” California Medicine (editorial), September 1970