Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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Abortion clause is an abuse of the Constitution

Published in Newsday
19 September 2006

It is not surprising that the Draft Constitution should have a clause which attempts to make abortion illegal. After all, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who commissioned the Draft, is on record as saying that abortion would never be legalized in Trinidad and Tobago. However, abortion is not an appropriate matter to be included in a constitution, since a constitution is not just a law but a framework for laws. Additionally, since abortion is already lawful when a woman’s physical and emotional health is endangered, his statement only revealed Mr Manning’s unwillingness to have a public discussion on this issue.

But such an important issue cannot be decided by Prime Ministerial fiat. Indeed, some politicians on both sides, such as Camille Robinson-Regis and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, have stated publicly that abortion law reform is an issue that should be put on the public agenda. To call for this does not mean imply support for abortions – it implies support for democratic practice.

The Humanist Association would like to see the government start a national dialogue on abortion, so that individuals and organisations which are in favour of and against reform of the country’s abortion law can air their views. In this way, the public can become better informed about a matter which affects thousands of women, as well as children. The questions to be addressed would be social, political, scientific, and philosophical. Some of these questions would be:

  1. When does a human life begin?
  2. Is there a difference between a human being and a person?
  3. Should a foetus have moral priority over an adult?
  4. At what stage of development does a foetus become conscious?
  5. Should women be given the choice to have an abortion or should the State dictate this choice?
  6. Can a Constitution grant rights to a foetus, given that a constitution is intended to prevent unlawful acts by the State and a foetus cannot bring a motion if any such rights are breached?
  7. Should religious beliefs carry more or less weight than ethical and empirical arguments on the issue of abortion law reform?
  8. What effect, if any, does legalizing abortion have on the rates of violence in a society?
  9. Does a lack of clear legislation affect mostly poor women in procuring a termination of pregnancy?
  10. Are there any circumstances under which a woman should be free to choose to have an abortion?

This short and incomplete list reveals the complexities of the abortion issue. But it is for that very reason that abortion law reform must be put on the public agenda, and not left up to politicians.

T&T Humanist Association

See Trinity Cross? Trinidad and Tobago is a secular democracy?

See Should a leader impose belief over reason?

See Humanism, secularism and public policy

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