PORT OF SPAIN, May 17, CMC – Describing abortion and gay rights as “two elephants in the room”, Trinidad and Tobago’s minister for gender affairs Senator Verna St. Rose Greaves has thrown her personal support behind their decriminalisation, insisting that the country can no longer choose to ignore them as urgent human rights and public health issues.
But the coalition government minister also stressed that her position was not necessarily that of the Kamla Persad Bissessar administration and that it was up to Cabinet to decide.
“We open up the issue so that people can express their views without getting beaten up. Once you have a view that is different in this country, there is a tendency that people beat up on you and then you go quiet because you are afraid of what will come,” she told a consultation on the government’s national gender policy on Wednesday.
“The figures at the hospital are there. They are astounding of how many backstreet abortions, poor women who cannot afford to get proper health care, teenagers who are afraid to come out and say that they are pregnant. They do things that harm themselves and we must pay attention to that,” St. Rose Greaves said.
She acknowledged that the draft policy on gender and development was often held up by the two issues, which she described as “the two elephants in the room”.
The minister, who also holds the youth and children’s development portfolios, said while her own views and those coming out of the consultation will certainly involve how the issues are treated in the new draft policy, it is up to Cabinet to decide which measures are ultimately accepted and tabled in Parliament.
On gay rights, the human rights activist turned minister said she was for everyone being able to access the rights of ordinary citizens and gave her full support to the gay, lesbian and transgender group, CAISO, which held a protest outside the Red House, the seat of parliament here, last Friday.
Homosexual acts between men remain illegal under colonial-era laws kept on the statute books as Trinidad and Tobago attained its independence nearly 50 years ago.
Successive administrations in this predominantly Roman Catholic republic have baulked at legalising abortion.
The minister told the consultation she supported making abortion facilities available, referring to Barbados which became the first country in the English-speaking Caribbean to legalise abortion with the passage of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1983.
St Rose Greaves noted that legal abortions were available in Barbados’ public health facilities under certain conditions.
She could not say if such a facility might eventually be made available in Trinidad and Tobago, TV6 News reported.