|Draft constitution bans abortion |
SEAN DOUGLAS Thursday, September 7 2006
THE Draft Constitution recently laid by Prime Minister Patrick Manning in Parliament is poised to reignite the debate on abortion, as it seeks to protect human life “from the moment of conception,” sources said yesterday.
The Draft spells out fundamental human rights and freedoms, including clause 5 which enshrines the right to life, liberty and security.
Clause 5(2) states: “Everyone shall have the right to have his life respected and this right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception.”
Currently, TT’s laws ban most abortions in Trinidad and Tobago, but in 2000 the pro-choice lobby, Advocates for Safe Parenthood: Improving Reproductive Equity (ASPIRE), initiated a national debate on abortion. ASPIRE drafted a Women’s Pregnancy Bill to allow abortion, and although they complained about a lack of response from the Government, they made international headlines, receiving support from the International Planned Parenthood Federation. With the recent Draft Constitution’s anti-abortion clause, that debate is set to restart, and is likely to reopen rifts in this society on this heartfelt issue.
Yesterday ASPIRE chairman Lynette Seebaran-Suite said the right to life from conception is not a right commonly recognised in Commonwealth constitutions.
More so such a right would have to be balanced against a woman’s right to choose how to space out her family. ASPIRE vice-chairman, Joanna Bharose, asked how the clause in the Draft Constitution would affect the “hundred-and-one” international conventions to which the country was a signatory which address women’s rights, such as the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. “Does this new Constitution mean that anything we’ve signed goes out the window? Is it saying a woman’s right is not important enough to be respected?”
Bharose said that many elements of the Draft seem dogmatic.
“Certain opinions have taken precedence over people’s basic rights”. Bharose said that unlike other countries which were trying to grant more rights to their citizens, the Draft was retrograde as it changed some basic rights like freedom of speech and people’s right to choose. Bharose said ASPIRE estimated that Trinidad and Tobago has 20,000 abortions annually, of which 4,000 are botched procedures which end up in the “slip and slide” wards of hospitals at a monthly cost to the Government of $1 million.
In contrast, a spokesman for pro-life lobby, the Emmanuel Community of the Roman Catholic Church, welcomed the Draft’s proposed ban on abortion.
He said that contrary to ASPIRE’s aim to permit abortions, the Draft retains the current law. “In light of this provision in the draft Constitution, it appears that the intention is to preserve the position in our laws as regards the Offences Against the Person Act.”
So, why does the Roman Catholic Church oppose abortion? He replied, “Abortion terminates life. We say that life begins at the moment of fertilisation of the egg.” He said a foetus is a separate human individual. “At fertilisation, the 23 chromosomes from the male and the 23 chromosomes from the female, produce 46 chromosomes which make up the individual, so it is a life separate from that of the mother and the father. The pro-abortion people are wrong to say ‘it’s my body’ because you are talking about two separate lives”. He questioned the figures being put out by ASPIRE. In contrast he said a poll by Prof Ramesh Deosaran, had concluded that most people in Trinidad and Tobago oppose abortion.