The body set up to monitor the abortion law scarcely functioned
Stabroek News
December 5, 2001

Dear Editor,

We should put Dr. Ramsammy's promise to implement the abortion law and Fr. Hardless' call for an assessment of its impact in their proper historical context.

Early in our public discussion of the need for a new abortion law, Ms Josephine Whitehead, attorney-at-law, wrote about the UK's Lane Report (SN. August 18, 1993).

She pleaded with the government to do better than the Lane Report. That report assessed the UK Abortion Act 1967, reported on its benefits and made suggestions for revision which were informed the 1974 Act. Here is what she wrote.

"Some of the findings of the Lane Report may be of interest to us. It supported the wording of the 1967 law and recommended no changes (para. 71). The committee was unanimous in its view that the gains resulting from the Act far out-weighed the disadvantages that attracted criticism (para. 605). The Committee found that the Act had reduced a vast amount of individual suffering (para. 600). The report urged more work in education, contraceptive information and a greater balance in the provision of services (para. 601). It cautioned against any attempt to use the act punitively, in a vain effort to improve the society's morals (para. 610). It proposed aftercare counselling services, especially for girls under 16, women seeking repeat abortions, women with several children, and older women. Reasoning that contraceptive compliance was the lesser of the two evils (than unwanted pregnancy), a majority of the Committee's members believed that it was better for a physician to provide contraceptives to a girl not yet sixteen, if she refused to consent to her parents being told (para. 245). Conscientious objectors would not be required to perform abortions, except in the case where it was imperative to save the life of the mother."

Ms Whitehead asked the government to set up a permanent body to monitor our law so that we could benefit from on-going improvement, rather than endure a seven-year wait as in the UK. Ms Whitehead wrote nearly two years before our law was passed.

Our legislators created the permanent body Ms Whitehead and others wanted, but it has scarcely functioned. Thus, after more than five years, I am not aware of any decisions to improve the effectiveness of the law based on the work of the Advisory Board. The idea of a civilian review board remains a good one, but first it must find its voice. I sincerely hope that the Minister of Health succeeds in his plan to strengthen the Board.

Yours faithfully,

Gizem Samaroo (Ms)