By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
AS the controversy surrounding the passing of a law that criminalises abortions after 20-weeks continues to wage in Texas, Bahamian women are putting a renewed spotlight on the issue in the Bahamas.
Despite opposition from thousands of abortion rights advocates and others, the governor of Texas signed the bill into law last week banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The law also requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgical centres and mandates that a doctor must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where he or she performs abortions.
Abortion rights advocates said the law could force a majority of the state’s 42 abortion clinics to close because it requires the clinics to be licensed as ambulatory surgery centres. To meet these standards, renovations or relocations are necessary they said.
The issue has sparked debate far beyond the borders of the US. Bahamian women have also joined the conversation, and questioned whether or not the anti-abortion law in Bahamas needs reform.
During its fifth periodic report to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), last year the government stated that abortions are performed in the Bahamas on “grounds of foetal deformity and rape or incest, as well as on health grounds”.
CEDAW is an international human rights treaty that focuses on women’s rights and women’s issues worldwide, ratified by the Bahamas in 1993.
“Abortions are usually performed within the first trimester, although they are often allowed up to 20 weeks of gestation. The abortion must be performed in a hospital by a licensed physician. Government hospitals bear the cost for non-paying patients,” states the government’s CEDAW report, which is available online.
Bahamian Sherene Fowler said the current law should be looked at again because it robs women of there reproductive freedom.
She said: “I believe all the laws in the Bahamas regarding women need to be reviewed, including laws regarding a woman’s right to choose. I understand the controversy; but the fact is, illegal and unsafe abortions do happen in this country and will continue to happen. With the persistent rate of unwed, single mothers - and absent fathers with multiple partners and children from different women - a woman’s decision to continue an early stage pregnancy should be her choice. Make no mistake, I am not pro-abortion, I am pro-choice. A safe, legal option should be there. A person’s medical decisions are his/her own to make with consultation from his/her doctor - not the government.”
One Bahamian, who spoke to Tribune Woman said she believes a woman should have the right to make the decision to have an abortion. She had to.
“I do not agree with women killing a foetus every-time they get pregnant. But if the situation is not right and a woman believes she is not able to properly raise a child then that should be an option for her. I had an abortion before, only because I was not fit mentally, physically, or financially. It was one of the most painful things I had to do but I believe it was the decision I could have made,” she said.
She added: “I highly doubt lawmakers and people who do not believe in having abortions, ever have to really experience what women who are put in that position have to. They could say no abortions and talk about the sanctity of life all they want. Until they are ever in the position where they have to make that decision then they only have one view of the issue,” she said.
Before addressing the issue of abortion, Bahamian Phylicia Carey said there needs to be moves towards ensuring people can access contraception easily, especially teens.
“First off I think there needs to be proper family planning care in the Bahamas because if people do not have easy access to contraception, especially young teenagers who are sexually active then it means they are more likely to get pregnant or have unplanned pregnancies. Whereas if these people had access to birth control then this would decrease the chances of them having to get an abortion.”
Ms Carey said if there are laws that are not considerate to women, women are going to find ways to circumvent the law which can cause them to have abortions through the back door which can lead to them dying, or having infertility issue.
Another problem that is prevalent as a result of the anti-abortion law is people offering substandard service, she said.
“For instance you will pay someone who is not qualified to the job,” she said.
Candia Archer said: “The law should definitely be reviewed and addressed. We are behind when it comes to examining this law. Abortions are not a pleasant part of life but sometimes it is necessary. The Bahamas is behind when it comes to certain laws. Take marital rape for instance and women not being able to pass down citizenship to their children.
Abortion is just another outdated law that is meant to keep women in their place,” she said.