Lack of reproductive rights in Antigua and Barbuda leaves women with little choice

 By Rachael Espinet

 Reproductive justice in the Caribbean continues to be a struggle.  Across most of the Caribbean, there is an urgent need to address unwanted pregnancies, inequitable access to abortion, and related issues of unsafe abortion.  For most of the English-speaking Caribbean, the law on abortion is based on the 1861 UK Offences Against the Person (OAP) Act and is unclear.  Many medical, legal, religious leaders, media, and laypeople mistakenly believe that abortion is illegal in all circumstances.

 In Antigua and Barbuda women resort to various means to exercise their autonomy.  It is common for women and girls to walk into a pharmacy or a doctor’s office and request medication or surgery to end an unwanted pregnancy.  Some doctors and pharmacists do provide abortion services, however, clandestinely, for exorbitant fees. Poor and vulnerable women and girls are forced to use unsafe methods. The problem is simple: “Those who have the power to change the law, have no need to do so. Those who have the need to change the law have no power to do so.”  This is the unjust and unfair imbalance the Caribbean Observatory on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) is seeking to address.

 There are many reasons why women and girls choose to terminate a pregnancy. For some, raising children or including one more child into their family is an expense they cannot afford. For others, it might be a matter of timing – wanting to complete their education or to manage the spacing between their children.  And for some, medical misfortunes may compel them to end a wanted pregnancy.

 Antigua and Barbuda is a tourism-based island that imports most of its food and energy.  The cost of living in the state is quite high. Girls who get pregnant while still in school may access abortions so they could finish their education and build a life for themselves. One doctor, who spoke to the Caribbean Observatory on SRHR, said he does, on average, 150 to 200 abortions per year. “I’ve been a gynecologist for 32 years…The most common reason for an abortion is that they (women) just don’t want to be pregnant,” he said.

Every once in a while, he may encounter someone who isn’t sure about what they want, so he advises them of the options and the processes. “Then they could make up their minds but most times when they come to see me, it’s because they’ve already made up their minds,” he said. “I don’t know their situation. They know their situation best. I say, okay if that’s what you want, let’s see how we can do this.”