Will US Women Travelling to Caribbean for Abortions Deepen Religious Divide Between Nations

People dressed in green clothes and holding green umbrellas during a demonstration to demand legal abortion, in the Dominican Republic (Photo: Getty)
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Attitudes towards abortion across the Caribbean vary widely, with some countries prohibiting reproductive care and others decriminalising it

The divide between abortion attitudes in the Caribbean is set to deepen as US women travel to the islands for treatment against a background of rising religious opposition.

The fall of Roe v Wade could have a ripple effect across the region, which has high rates of unwanted pregnancies, because it is easily influenced by the US and religious movements, activists said.

Attitudes towards abortion across the Caribbean vary widely, with some countries prohibiting reproductive care and others decriminalising it.

On some islands, the abortion policy is a throwback to colonial times when the British Empire exported the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act abroad. The act meant that performing an abortion or trying to self-abort could result in life imprisonment.

Reverend Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, CEO of the Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation (CFPA), said striking down Roe v Wade was a “monstrous act of social injustice” that would “regress decades of progress”.

She warned it could spur on “religious fundamentalists in their pursuit of reinforcing patriarchal norms and values in families and societies”.

“It will have a negative impact in funding for family planning in the Caribbean which has low [family planning] prevalence and high rates of unwanted pregnancies, including high rates of adolescent pregnancies. These have a devastating impact, especially in exacerbating gender-based violence and increasing poverty.”

But countries that have decriminalised abortion, such as Cuba, Barbados and Guyana, may become cost-effective destinations for American women seeking safe care.

Other islands allow abortion for social and economic reasons, or in cases of rape and incest.

Some American states on the south coast, which are closest to the Caribbean, have restricted their abortion care.

Florida will soon have an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy while Alabama has already banned abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest, according to The New York Times tracker. In South Carolina, it is banned after six weeks and Mississippi may soon ban nearly all abortions.

Abortion in the Caribbean

The circumstances in which abortion is allowed

  1. Antigua & Barbuda – to save a woman’s life
  2. Bahamas – to preserve health
  3. Barbados – for broad social or economic ground, rape, incest, foetal impairment
  4. Cuba – decriminalised (gestational limits apply)
  5. Dominica – to save a woman’s life
  6. Dominican Republic – banned
  7. Grenada – to preserve health
  8. Guyana – decriminalised (gestational limits apply)
  9. Haiti – banned
  10. Jamaica – banned
  11. Puerto Rico – decriminalised (gestational limits apply)
  12. Saint Kitts & Nevis – to preserve health
  13. Saint Lucia – to preserve health, in cases of rape and incest
  14. Saint Vincent & Grenadines – for broad social or economic grounds, rape, incest, and foetal impairment
  15. Suriname – banned
  16. Trinidad and Tobago – to preserve health

Rev Sheerattan-Bisnauth called on progressive faith communities to connect with women’s rights organisations and “use their influence to decry this death-dealing situation”.

Dona Da Costa Martinez, deputy regional director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said sexual and reproductive health organisations in the Caribbean need to be prepared for the potential influx of US women who may travel to their territories, where abortion is legal, to access safe and cost-effective care.

She said: “The lesson learned is that the Caribbean together with its Latin American partners must continue to be proactive to ensure that the gains won in decriminalising abortion are not eroded but sustained.”

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