Protecting Women’s Health Is Crucial For A Healthy Society

In one bold stroke of his pen, President Biden, a devout Catholic, repealed the Global Gag Rule (GGR), and extended a range of other actions in health, including funding for UNFPA. In an interview the President said that he ended the policy as part of an effort to “protect women’s health at home and abroad”.

The Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation (CFPA) has a high priority on the right of a woman to choose and be empowered to take control of her life and welcomes President Biden’s strident leadership in the face of intense controversy.

There is nothing like a leader who has the courage to rise above the tumult of the moment and act calmly in addressing the long term common good.

Biden has distinguished between his personal faith and public policy. He has not allowed the noise of the religious right to interfere with his obligation to fashion public policy to serve the needs of poor, vulnerable women across the world.

His action will breathe new life into our resource-starved NGOs that strive to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights for all people.

The GGR, that cruel obstacle which has prevented us from providing counsel and services to women seeking to exercise choice regarding pregnancy, has been removed.

The need in the Caribbean is acute. By age 45, more than 60 percent of women in our region have had at least one abortion and most have had repeat abortions. For our region, involvement with abortion is a majority phenomenon for men and women.

Our widespread denial and suppression are stark signals of our deep pathology regarding this reality.

For poor women, many of those abortions are unsafe – driven by colonial laws and social stigma. Our restrictive laws force poor women into unsafe procedures from which they suffer serious harm. The care of botched abortions is a significant drain on health resources. This situation is both grossly inequitable and irrational.

We continue to cling to laws that our colonial masters rejected in 1967, just a few years after many of us became independent.

Our independence has not resulted in new power to women. Far from it: Our region ranks worst in the world in Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).

Only Barbados (1983) and Guyana (1995) have repealed the criminal law and established new civil guidance giving women control of their bodies.

In neither case did the fear of an explosion of abortions or so-called abortion tourism materialize.

Other countries, Belize, St. Vincent and St. Lucia, have expanded the grounds for legal abortion within the criminal law.

In Jamaica, there are renewed calls for women to have the right to make decisions regarding pregnancy without them or their doctors being criminalized. Among the voices calling for the change in the law are government ministers, Juliette Cuthbert-Flynn and Alando Terrelonge. We applaud the stance these political leaders have taken. We urge other political leaders to exercise leadership – not to hide behind the crowd.

Recourse to a referendum is avoidance, not leadership. We contend that a referendum should not be used to decide whether a woman has a right to decide whether she wants to be pregnant or not. A woman’s right to choose pregnancy is already guaranteed in our constitutions and the international human rights instruments ratified by our governments.

We urge our political leaders to look at the data that show the harm to women’s reproductive health. We urge them to act with courage, to face the stigma and fashion new civil laws that give all women the legal authority to control their bodies.

The CFPA calls for Caribbean governments to act on their own declaration of Health Ministers in Nassau in 1974 and take urgent action to review the criminal law of abortion. Regional governments must move to protect the health of women and girls, repeal discriminatory laws and practices, and implement policies and mechanisms to enable women and girls to exercise their reproductive and sexual rights.

Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth CEO

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