Sat | Mar 23, 2019

Garth Rattray | Which right to life? (Part 1)

Published:Monday | July 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Almost nine years before I was born, my father's only living sibling, my then-15-year-old aunt, became pregnant. I was told that it was an unmitigated disaster for a family living in poverty, especially because (as happens frequently) the father of the child denied any responsibility.

That pregnancy was never tampered with. Instead, her big brother, my father, left school early and worked to support her and his immediate family. That child came into a family that loved her and cared for her deeply.

My aunt went back to school and studied to become a nurse. She specialised in midwifery and eventually migrated, ending up retiring as a charge nurse for a floor at a medical facility in the United States.

My aunt's midwifery training was fortunate for me, because when my mother was about to give birth, the doctor on duty thought that she was not ready, so he left, and my aunt ended up delivering me.

My aunt's child, my cousin who my father later adopted, became a very bright and respected attorney-at-law. She also migrated to the United States and practised as a public defender in New York. Her daughter also became a lawyer and was, for a while, a federal prosecutor. Today, she is a very successful lawyer and also lives in New York. She is now the mother of a wonderful pair of twin girls.

What would have become of me if my midwife aunt had not been the beneficiary of family support in her crisis? This allowed her to go back to school and was there to deliver me. What would have happened if my 15-year-old aunt had terminated that unplanned pregnancy? What would have become of all those people that her grown daughter defended in New York? I happened to know some of them, who were Jamaican policemen who ran afoul of the law in the USA. What would have become of the many states and large companies that her daughter (also a lawyer) worked for?

Aside from my family history, I have a long list of patients who became pregnant at extremely inconvenient times in their lives. Some were impregnated in their teens, before completing their secondary education. These occurrences precipitated rivers of tears and extended lamentations fuelled by dashed hopes and moral disappointment. In these instances, parents always bemoan their wasted 'investment' in discipline, time, effort and, of course, very limited financial resources. The social embarrassment is always a major factor, as the entire household can no longer 'hold their heads up'.




Several things about these situations always irk me. The males who impregnate these girls are never around to face the firestorm. I have never seen even one of them appear when their pregnant girlfriend comes to me awash with saline tears. They never miss school and their education goes on uninterrupted. The entire family of the guilty males literally fades into the woodwork during those trying times. In fact, some of them even become hostile and accusatory.

I believe that rich kids get pregnant less often than their poor counterparts. Perhaps it's the financial access to contraception. Rich kids can afford them, some rich kids get support for contraception from their parents, and they are more aware of the consequences.

On the other hand, poor kids can only afford the free clinic contraceptives and are afraid or ashamed to collect them. Most poor kids have parents who will maul them if they found out about their sexual activities. Poor kids see pregnancy all around their communities, so the consequences don't seem as serious, plus they already have nothing to lose, sometimes.

Next week, to be or not to be.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and