The issue of abortion is back again. Member of Parliament Dr George Norton made a pitch for the Georgetown Public Hospital to become involved in abortions merely because its free service and the professional service offered could save lives.
There are not many media reports of people succumbing to botched abortions and this may be because people do not advertise these happenings because of the stigma involved. But then again reporters do not pester the Ministry of Health and the hospitals for information on the major cases that required medical attention.
When Guyana opted to review the question of abortion the Ministry of Health drafted and tabled a Bill called the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill. Each Member of Parliament was asked to vote according to his conscience. They were not bound by political party lines. Such voting trends are often invited when the matter is of no direct political interest; and not a partisan issue.
A similar pattern of voting was allowed when the National Assembly debated the Bill that sought to widen sexual preferences and again when the state sought to allow for casino gambling.
Needless to say, all of these Bills attracted a degree of hostility from the religious community. In the case of the Bill that allowed for Medical Termination of Pregnancies the government was forced to pass legislation that debarred the public institutions from performing abortions.
It meant that the private institutions were allowed to perform abortions. However, there were certain conditions attached. The abortionist had to counsel the patient thereby giving the patient a chance to review the decision. He was also expected to keep records that would be submitted to the Ministry of Health. Further, there was a stipulation that abortions would not be performed after a certain period of pregnancy.
The reality is that while many seek the services of private medical practitioners many resort to the so-called bottom house operators. There is no counseling, neither is there proper record keeping nor would they guarantee that what would be used be properly sterilized.
The real problem is that many women use abortions as a means of birth control and therefore often display reckless behaviour. In recent times some of the poorer women have been choosing to resort to barbaric means to terminate pregnancies with the result that many experience incomplete abortions. The law, as it now stands, does allow for public institutions to aid in such cases.
Some of the cases presenting themselves have been nothing short of horrific and to save the lives of some of the women who ended up in the public institutions the doctors have had to perform nothing short of miracles.
It cannot be argued that the women seek the alternatives to the quacks because of impecunity because there are non-governmental organisations to offer such a service because they are aware of the social conditions in Guyana. But there are women who do ignore such services and continue to resort to the quacks and the less than professional abortionists.
The numbers of such women have now prompted certain Members of Parliament to call for a review of the law. He sincerely believes that such a review could save lives. Just a few weeks ago there was a woman from a Lower East Coast Demerara village who succumbed from a botched abortion. She suffered a perforated uterus among other complications.
It is here that the people who profess an interest in these unfortunate women should first insist that the measures contained in the law are adhered to. In the first instance they should ensure that prosecutions are the norms rather than the exception. In Guyana, it is common knowledge that doctors do not testify against each other. The offshoot is that those who fail to complete the abortion live to continue.
There is no monitoring by the special body set up by the Health Ministry; there is no penalty for those who fail to keep records and certainly, there is no inspection of facilities to ensure that they are up to the medical standard necessary for safe abortions. Monitoring of legislation has always been a problem in Guyana.
There may be no need for the public institutions to begin to perform abortions. And surely the objectors would be required to come out in protest.