By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THERE are no plans to make abortion legal in The Bahamas, Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday in response to questions over claims made by a senior health official at the 71st Session of the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva last week.
Mr Bethel, when contacted yesterday, denied the position put forth by Sherry Armbrister, senior nursing officer in the Ministry of Health, was in line with the working agenda of the Minnis administration.
“I have no knowledge of any plans to address the legal nature of abortions in the Bahamas; no plans as far as I am aware,” he said.
Addressing the international forum in Geneva, Switzerland last Thursday, Ms Armbrister revealed the government was working on a patients’ bill of rights that would address the right of women in the Bahamas to have abortions if they so wished.
Ms Armbrister implied that a substantial bill of rights was being fine-tuned and could head to Parliament, with a view to pave the way for, among other things, a youth emancipation framework and the right for women to have abortions.
“Currently we are working on a patient’s bill of rights, which has to go to Parliament, and once that is passed or when it is passed, it will pave the way for us to deal with the emancipated youth as well as the right for a woman to have [an] abortion,” Ms Armbrister told the UN committee.
The UN committee had asked the Bahamian delegation, which was led by Social Services Minister Frankie Campbell, to clarify the measures being taken to broaden the condition under which abortions can legally be made available in the country - mainly in instances of rape, incest, severe foetal impairments and risk to the health of a pregnant woman.
The request led Mr Campbell to suggest: “If there is any jeopardy to the health of the mother, the abortion is allowed and, yes, the question of abortion as it relates to rape cases is allowed.”
His response led to one CEDAW official to point out that there is still “a grey area” in the government’s approach to the controversial issue.
A point Mr Campbell then agreed with.
Reflecting on the exchange yesterday, Mr Bethel said while abortions and the ordeals which lead to them are matters that need to be addressed at the national level, the Minnis administration has not taken any steps to make abortions legal.
“Let me say this clearly, I am entirely unaware of any such plans. Abortions remain a criminal offence and any talk to the contrary is not only counter-productive, but a misrepresentation of this government’s position,” he added.
In a separate interview, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands yesterday indicated that the Minnis administration has, since coming to office last year, only worked to examine the patient’s bill of rights explored by the former Christie administration.
A draft of this circulated in 2016.
To date, according to Dr Sands, health officials have only held preliminary talks on portions of that draft bill and ways to improve it.
Dr Sands told The Tribune that while those talks did focus on frameworks to expand the rights of patients, no talks addressed abortion.
Of the issue, Dr Sands said it was something that he would have to raise with officials once he would have had a chance to review the claims made to CEDAW.
The government’s delegation to the UN included: Frank Davis, chargé d’affaires/deputy permanent representative, Permanent Mission of The Bahamas in Geneva; Dr Jacinta Higgs, director, and Melvelyn Symonette, first assistant secretary, of the Department of Gender and Family Affairs; Jewel Major, chief counsel, and Alicia Gibson, assistant counsel, of the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs; Sherry Armbrister, senior nursing officer, Ministry of Health; Sharmaine Sinclair, assistant director, Ministry of Education; Sasha Dixon, second secretary, Permanent Mission of The Bahamas in Geneva and Celsus Williams assistant secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Kathryn Campbell, senior information officer, Bahamas Information Services; Ms Virginia Hall-Campbell and Dwina Higgs, project manager, were also present.