LALIT has pleasure in publishing, and in also expressing support for, the stand of Muvman Liberasyon Fam in its letter addressed to all members of the National Assembly urging them each to vote in favour of the new abortion Bill. This morning, Tuesday 14 May, MLF members gathered at the entrance to Parliament to give the letter to each MP in person, though soft copies had already been sent. Here is the content:
Dear Honourable Member of the National Assembly,
The Muvman Liberasyon Fam calls on you in a spirit of solidarity and as someone elected by women and men in a secular society, to vote in favour of the Bill to amend the colonial anti-abortion Law dating back to 1838. Ideally, political parties should give a Party “mo-dord” for a vote in favour on the grounds of public health, human rights, and the need for a secular law. Should any MP be unwilling to vote in favour on personal moral grounds, he or she should, as a conscientious objector, abstain, thus leaving individual freedom of conscience intact.
The present Amendment, though not the demand that we in the MLF have for 36 years fought for, will have some immediate positive effects. For these reasons, we are calling on you to vote in favour of the Bill.
Firstly, the cruelty inflicted on women under the old law, when we were forced by a repressive State apparatus to continue with a pregnancy we cannot bear to continue with, after being assaulted and traumatized by rape, will finally come to an end. The cruelty of the old law whereby the State forced girl children and women victims of incest to continue with a pregnancy they find repugnant because of the incest taboo, will now end. The cruelty of the old law permitting the State to deny women abortion even when their fragile health makes continued pregnancy dangerous, will also come to an end. The obligation on women to continue pregnancy even after the detection of serious foetal abnormality will no longer be the work of the State to enforce. Women in extreme suffering will thus be spared repression on top of distress and anguish.
Secondly, the new law will, by taking away the blanket “criminalization” of the quasi totality of the female population, change the balance of forces in society as a whole in favour of women's health. The new law will create the space for women who still have recourse to abortion in circumstances other than those allowed for by the law, if they should fall ill as a direct consequence of a back-street abortion, to now be able to go to the hospitals and clinics at once for emergency treatment, without the fear that blanket criminalization caused under the old law. This will, at least, contribute to decreasing deaths of women of child-bearing age.
Thirdly, the new law will allow women and girls to discuss unwanted pregnancy more openly, because it is no longer criminal, thus helping towards creating a society where a new “will” to use contraception with ease and with care will be able to be born.
Fourthly, the new law will show the public, which remains largely ignorant of this technological progress, that most abortions are in many countries now, in fact, done by taking the RU 486 medicines followed by an echogram, and not by invasive surgery of any kind. People will become aware that Cytotec, by contrast, is not proper abortive treatment. This will also help save women's lives.
Fifthly, working women and women from families with modest incomes, will be able, at least in these four extreme cases, to be able to find a dignified resolution to their terrible predicament. This is in contrast with existing law, where only women of financial means have any possibility of a dignified resolution to the most traumatising of pregnancies.
At the time of the decreeing of the Section 235 of the colonial Criminal Code in 1838, the effect of the anti-abortion law was to protect women’s health and lives. At that time, medical technology and pharmacology were so undeveloped that all abortions were, in fact, dangerous to the women who had recourse to them. Today, however, this same law is now the cause of women’s illness, permanent disability and even death. So, the law must be changed. We call on you to feel for the thousands of women who have recourse to dangerous methods, including the inappropriate drug Cytotec, thus exposing their lives. And to mourn for those women, often mothers, who have lost their lives because of this blanket criminalization of women, which causes women to have recourse to unsafe abortions, in the first place, and then, once ill, to fear prosecution so much as to avoid seeking medical treatment in time.
Human Rights and Dignity
Women have since time immemorial been responsible for the reproduction of society in many ways, including physical reproduction. We have always acted responsibly.
Today, we call for MPs to recognize this, and not to give in to the misogynist propaganda that “women will take advantage of the law”, “abize” and, as it were, go around having abortions for no rhyme or reason. We also call on MPs to realize that some so-called “Democracy Watch”-ers are so undemocratic as to wish that the International Human Rights Covenants signed democratically by elected Governments should be flaunted by the perpetuation of an archaic law imposed by colonial decree.
The Bill coming before the National Assembly is a secular Bill, allowing people who do not agree with abortion to avoid recourse to it, and to preach that others, too, avoid recourse. This is freedom of conscience. However, the term “life”, which usually means the difference between “organic” and “inorganic” matter, takes on many different definitions when the term is applied to the concept of when exactly a human embryo or a foetus is or is not “life”, and this varies amongst different religious and moral sensibilities world-wide. But in practice every day in Mauritius, both the Civil Status Office and all religions, quite rightly, take the moment, as a rule of thumb, as being the moment of a live birth. Doctors can, of course, help very well-developed foetuses to survive from up to two or so months prior to "full term", and this is a wonderful development.
The present law in no way obliges anyone to have recourse to a procedure they do not wish to undergo. On the contrary, it prevents the State from forcing repression, prosecution and jail, on those women who, in their own conscience, decide under the very limited conditions of the Bill, to have recourse to an abortion.
Women already having abortions
Women, even when faced with the existing repressive State apparatus, do have recourse to abortions. The statistics quoted by Dr. Zeenat Aumeerully recently, say it all. We call on you to vote, and to vote proudly, in favour of women being given at least this little bit of respect i.e. being able, in all legality, to terminate a pregnancy in these limited cases of extreme suffering.
Government and Opposition both in Favour
The new Bill is essentially the implementation of the proposal of the MMM-MSM’s Task Force Report (Pramila Patten was Chair) that the then Women’s Rights Minister Arianne Navarre-Marie, at the time, announced would be presented in 2003. The main leaders of the MMM and MSM, including opposition leader Paul Bérenger, have publicly stood by this kind of amendment. The Labour Party leadership, including the Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam, and now the Cabinet, have stood by this Amendment. Of all the political parties it is, surprisingly, the PMSD that has, as a party had the clearest stand in favour of women’s right to this basic protection of our health and dignity.
It is with respect that we call on you to vote in favour of the Amendments to the old law.
Ragini Kistnasamy and Lindsey Collen
For the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, 12 May, 2012.