Friday, February 23, 2024
HomeEducation / CulturePunishment without purpose

Punishment without purpose

By Fred Nunes

Some 85 years ago, a doctor in England examined a 14-year-old girl and determined that she was sufficiently developed physically to carry her pregnancy to term.

Still, he performed an abortion and then promptly called the chief constable so he would be arrested.

On trial at the Old Bailey, his defense was that the continuation of the pregnancy would have made the girl a “mental wreck”. Aleck Bourne was acquitted. His courage expanded the grounds for lawful abortion from the limited condition of saving the life of the woman, to protecting her physical and mental health.

He performed the abortion without charge at the request of her parents, after she had been raped by five officers of the Royal Horse Guards. The case, R v Bourne [1938] 3 All E.R. 615, is a landmark in British law.

Now 85 years later, we prosecute Jamil Minnis, a highly accomplished OB/GYN in Nassau, for performing an abortion on a 15-year-old girl at the request of her mother and older sister. Tribune, October 17, 2023.  Punishment without purpose.

Two years ago in Antigua, a 10-year-old girl was left to carry her pregnancy to term after she had been gang-raped.

What is the basis for our persistent stupidity? Inertia? Political cowardice? Religious absolutism? Silence? All the above?

We seem to yield either to an old plantation mentality of brutal punishment or to a new religious dogma that values fetal life above all else. Neither is prudent.

I wonder how often the parents of adolescents ever discuss sex with their children – girls and boys.

It turns out that one of the most effective antidotes to teen pregnancy is a programme that never mentions sex. It’s pre-school education where children gain self-confidence.

But we still shy away from introducing serious, age-appropriate sex education in our schools.  We choose ignorance over information.

So, we arrest the doctor and other physicians who provide this essential yet clandestine care, are intimidated. This arrest does not stop abortions. It only makes them more unsafe, driving women into riskier situations.

Of course, the fundamental problem is the asymmetry of power. Those with the power to change the law have no need to change it. While those with the need to change the law have no power to do so.

We speak ever so glibly about teen pregnancies. Almost 80 percent of those teen pregnancies are the result of relationships with men 20 years and older. More than half of them involve young men 20-24.

Yet we focus on the vulnerable teens rather than on the rapacious, exploitative young men. We even manage to blame the teenage girls.

Are we so incapable of addressing our blatant social challenges?

In March 2022, the very conservative WHO declared access to abortion care a human right and recommended the decriminalization of abortion. In October 2023, PAHO aligned itself with the WHO’s guidance. I hope this will help us to move forward. But I doubt it.  



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