Mon | Oct 2, 2023

Church leaders, JFJ differ over Malahoo Forte’s abortion stance

Published:Friday | June 9, 2023 | 12:28 AMAinsworth Morris/Staff Reporter
Legal and Constitutional Affairs Minister Marlene Malahoo Forte
Legal and Constitutional Affairs Minister Marlene Malahoo Forte

NUMEROUS CHURCH leaders from various denominations across the island are happy with comments made by Marlene Malahoo Forte, minister of legal and constitutional affairs, which she stated in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The church leaders have thrown their support behind Malahoo Forte after she said that the Government did not intend to disturb any savings law clauses in the Constitution or repeal pre-existing laws that would go against fundamental beliefs held by the Church.

On the contrary, Malahoo Forte has also been bashed by members of the public, primarily on social media, for her personal comments in the House, regarding abortion, where she stated that her mother was encouraged at every stage of her pregnancy to abort her, and thankfully, she did not.

Leading the list of church leaders The Gleaner spoke with on Tuesday was the Reverend Dr Alvin Bailey, presiding Bishop of the Holiness Christian Church in Jamaica.

“It is a statement that has given the Church much consolation that the Government has, in this case, listened to the voice of not only the Church, but the Jamaican people. As we would have indeed oppose as vigorously as possible any intention to trouble any clause or position, laws or precepts that would cause us to be accommodating of homosexuality and abortion,” Dr Bailey told The Gleaner.

“And not only are we expecting the Government to take such a position locally as it relates to our own Constitution, and the comprising and reform thereof, but also in respect of signing international treaties and taking positions internationally against nations and international organisations that will want to get us to comply with any kinds of statement or sign any agreement that supports homosexuality or abortion or contravene our own laws and position that are secure and protected by the savings law clause,” he said.

Adding to his comment was Jenni Campbell, representing the Association of Christian Communicators and Media, who said she hopes the Government and the Opposition will regard and respond favourably to the stance taken by the groups of churches and the righteous principles already outlined in the Bible.

She said Malahoo Forte’s stance on Tuesday is a step in the right direction.

“We are applauding the minister for her expressed position, although some of her comments were personal and it wasn’t part of her speech. She probably did not represent the views of all the members on the Government side, but her stating clearly that the savings clause will remain intact for buggery, and that she herself will not support any move to legalise abortion on demand ... that is our position, because we stand on the side of godliness, and those and other clauses in the Constitution that protect us as a righteous Christian nation,” Campbell said.

“We will continue to watch the developments in Parliament and pray that matters that will arise coming out continue the views of the Constitution; matters relating to the upcoming treaties under the African Caribbean and Pacific-European Union agreement that is expected to be signed later this month, that that signing will not happen. We don’t expect it to happen, because there are clauses in that treaty that go against what we believe to be true, righteous and of God, including what our children ought to be taught in school, and we are also watching carefully any other move that this Government may make that is not only against the people, but against godliness,” she said.

Campbell added that those ideas ensure our families are protected and children are raised under Christian values and principles that are true and right.

However, opposing the church’s group on Tuesday, Mickell Jackson, executive director of Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), expressed concerns for persons who are a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community; women who are raped and others who feel left out.

She said she also has a problem with the language that was used by Malahoo Forte in the House on Tuesday.

“The greater decision of JFJ is that there is already a position from the Government to suggest that certain matters, such as savings law clauses, won’t be touched during the process of constitutional reform,” she said.

Jackson noted that this is problematic because, weeks ago when the committee was just being named, the Government had indicated to the Jamaican public that it is an open process.

“They have no absolute position on certain matters, and therefore, through participation of the Jamaican public and citizenry, through consultation, then the position and opinions will be formed. That was what the Government said at the beginning of the process,” Jackson said.

“The comments yesterday (Tuesday) would also heighten our concern, where not only the Church had nothing to fear again, but also that well-thinking Jamaicans have nothing to fear, and what it does is to separate those who are affected by these savings law clause to ask themselves, ‘Am I not a Jamaican?’, ‘Am I not well thinking?’ So you talking about minority groups, such as those within the LGBTQ community. You’re talking about poor Jamaican women, some of whom are raped, who are not having access to safe abortion in law. You’re talking about a law that remains on the books in the Offences Against the Persons Act, that says that if a Jamaica woman were to pursue abortion, she may be imprisoned up to life! These are the things that are affecting our Jamaican people!” she said.

Jackson told The Gleaner that what the Government is also sending a signal to are that men and boys cannot be raped by law.

She said the Sexual Offences Act, which was reviewed in 2018, one of the recommendations made by JFJ and other civil society groups is that the definition of rape ought to be changed to accommodate men and boys.

“It ought to be amended so that our men and boys can be recognised and get the same protection as our women. The community then said that ‘I can’t touch the definition of rape unless and until the savings law clause is dealt with, and we’re seeing now there’s an opportune time to deal with these matters, and the Government is sending the signal to minority groups, poor Jamaican women that you don’t matter; you’re not among the well-thinking Jamaicans, and that is what we have a problem with ... the language that was used by the minister,” she told The Gleaner.

Jackson was also very concerned for women who have good reasons to want an abortion.

“Our position is, what it also does is to close the process on the people who would have wanted an opportunity to voice their concerns. It closes the process of the people who would want to bring evidence and their own experiences that this is the impact of the savings law clause on my fundamental rights and freedom. This is the impact that it has on our ability for public health resources being utilised when you have thousands of women having unsafe abortion because of restrictive and regressive laws that we still have on our books, so it closes off that spirit of consultation,” she said.

With regard to the personal comment made by Malahoo Forte about her mother not aborting her, Jackson said, “Each of us, we have personal experiences and we all have convictions by which we stand.

“The concern for JFJ is whether or not the minister, in her capacity, can voice such opinions in the manner it was done, because one has to take note that the comments were made in the middle of a sectoral presentation in her capacity as the minister of legal and constitutional affairs, so while personal convictions and so on are understood, its a matter of what is appropriate,” she said.