Thu | Jun 20, 2019

Peter Espeut | Commissars of libertarianism

Published:Friday | November 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM

A pitched battle is raging here in Jamaica. Casualties are mounting, and annually, number in the thousands. Cumulatively, over the last few years, it has been in the tens of thousands. If we allow the merchants of death to have their way, it will be in the hundreds of thousands each year.

The battle is philosophical, but the human fatalities are real enough: Minister of Health Christopher Tufton has called it 'The Abortion War'. He penned an article that was published last month (October 28, 2018) in this newspaper titled 'Abortion war needs dose of compassion'. I couldn't agree more!

He began: "Our consideration of abortion in Jamaica has, for too long, been characterised by contention and an apparent lack of empathy for those directly affected." Now I put it to you: Who is most "directly affected" by abortion? Answer: the thousands of humans who die by abortion each year. For them, Minister Tufton suffers a "lack of empathy"?

He went on: "The result has been that there are vulnerable people who have been denied the space to express themselves on the issue." Indeed, the voices of those most vulnerable (the unborn) are not heard in this 'Abortion War', except through people of conscience who speak on their behalf, pleading for a healthy dose of compassion.

On the same day (October 28, 2018), the editor of this newspaper - a self-proclaimed moralist and compulsive name-caller - criticised Minister Tufton for calling for more dialogue on the issue: "Our governments, of either party, intimidated by the fundamentalist Right and self-declared moralists, have cowardly recoiled from doing what is right. And the right thing in this regard is, having repealed Sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Person Act, to introduce and pass a Woman's Choice of Pregnancy Bill, in keeping with the recommendations of an advisory group that was in 2005 asked to review the abortion policy."

A redeeming quality of the Gleaner editor is that he seems to want to do "what is right", but being weak and untrained in matters moral (and scientific), he often comes to the wrong ethical conclusion.

He goes on: "This newspaper starts with the premise, as we have stated in the past, of a woman's right to her body and of control over her reproductive health - more so during that early period of pregnancy when the foetus is wholly unviable and without claim to the personhood that the commissars of morality and religious ideologues would impose upon it, in keeping with their creed of life at conception."

Mr Editor, pregnancy is not a disease to be cured by abortion. The foetus is within the woman's body, but is not part of her body. Life begins at conception. What science text are you using, Mr Editor? The editor is disingenuous to raise the issue of "personhood"; no pro-lifer argues that personhood begins at conception; like Don Quixote, the editor is jousting at imaginary windmills in a vain attempt to get his victory.

The raging battle is between those who believe that right and wrong is determined by the application of principles (like the right to life), and letting logic determine behaviour; and those who believe that behaviour is to be determined by whatever feels good (hedonism), whatever I feel to do at the moment (opportunism), whatever suits me (libertarianism).

Opinion-makers like The Gleaner and policymakers like Minister Tufton are driven by libertarianism. They will argue that every time you itch, you must scratch. Self-control is not in their vocabulary. If it feels good, do it! And if you get pregnant, you can have an abortion.

Policies must be put in place to assist the public to avoid the consequences of poor choices, in the name of compassion. And then they wonder why there is so much indiscipline and maternal mortality?

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and human development scientist. Email feedback to