With abortions being illegal in Jamaica, there is no official count on the number being done locally each year, and the estimate differs greatly, depending on which side of the divide one falls.
For those in favour of legalising abortions, the number is alarmingly high, but not so for the anti-abortion supporters.
During a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last week, Member of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, who wants the laws governing abortion relaxed, cited a World Health Organization (WHO) study for Jamaica, which showed 22,000 documented cases of abortions annually.
But this was rejected by anti-abortion supporter Dr Wayne West, who heads Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society. He argued that the number was 6,000, based on another study.
Cuthbert-Flynn would also reject figures presented by Shirley Richards that a high percentage of women from a Corporate Area community had abortions and had to rush to the Victoria Jubilee Hospital to correct those which had gone wrong.
And as the numbers tug of war ensued, tempers were only cooled when it was suggested that whether the figure was high or low, those who were able to access abortions overseas or in private facilities would not be reflected on the list.
“It’s not just people from [that Corporate Area community], and I think we need to stop stigmatising those people and saying only you down there are having an abortion. It is happening all over Jamaica. It is happening in the middle class, and I want to make that clear. But people who can afford it are doing it in a safer way,” Cuthbert-Flynn told the forum.
“And the people who can’t afford it end up in the hospital suffering the after effects of botched abortions,” added the government MP.
Earlier, she had told the forum of stories, first-hand and anecdotal, of some persons in her St Andrew West Rural constituency who had abortions done in an unsafe way.
According to Cuthbert-Flynn, those horror stories were among the issues which influenced her decision to ask Parliament to make it easier for women to have safe and secure abortions.
She slammed as unfair for anti-abortion supporters to continue referencing a local study which showed a significant percentage of women from one community securing abortions, as this gave the impression that all women from that area were promiscuous and using abortion to correct mistakes.
Ivan Cruickshank, executive director of Caribbean Vulnerable Communities, the non-profit non-governmental organisation promoting human and public-health rights of vulnerable groups, told the forum that he did not believe abortion was the first choice of women who became pregnant.
“I want to debunk this argument that abortions occur as a result of irresponsible sexual activity. That’s not necessarily the case, and a lot of the evidence is showing us that’s not the case.
“In fact, there are a number of persons who attempt contraceptive methods and still get pregnant,” said Cruickshank.