By Kalafi Moala
Nuku’alofa: A call to review and repeal abortion legislation in Tonga is part of a number of recommendations presented in a report on Adolescent Unplanned Pregnancy in the Pacific.
The research was carried out under the auspices of the University of New South Wales in Sydney (UNSW) and funded by the Australian Government’s Gender Equality Fund for “Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development” program.
Every year, according to the report, there are 7.3 million girls under 18 that give birth.
Pregnancies among teenagers have increased substantially in the Kingdom of Tonga. And almost all these teen pregnancies are unwanted and unplanned.
Researchers carried out interviews in Tonga with 15 participants from age 16 – 19, who had experienced an unplanned pregnancy. To put it more frankly, these are girls who had engaged in sexual activities without the realization or intention they could get pregnant.
According to the report, most of those pregnant were scared to tell their parents. “Because they were scared, most did not confirm their pregnancy or have interaction with a health service until they were around 5 months pregnant, and sometimes later.”
Prominent in the minds of those with unwanted pregnancy is the thought of how to end their pregnancy as they believe the pregnancy would cause mental, physical, and social difficulties if they give birth to their unborn baby.
Often the pregnancy was an inconvenience with huge social setbacks, accompanied with fear and shame. It is interesting however that this report does not point out or allow any sense of responsibility for their actions.
What became clear in the interviews with participants are the great lack of basic sexual and reproductive health knowledge, and especially the possible consequences of sexual activities resulting in unwanted pregnancy.
The concerns of the researchers and writers of the report seem to focus on “how to save” the girls with the unwanted pregnancies from inconveniences of any kind that might affect them in any way.
Abortion or the termination of unwanted pregnancies has become an option to those who are not willing to live with the social stigma of being pregnant outside of marriage.
The AUP report says that decision making about whether to keep the baby or try to abort was often informed by whatever information the young participants could find on the internet – Facebook, Google, and YouTube.
There are those who turn to close friends and select relatives to discuss possible abortion, but the report says that most often they were unable to obtain any useful information from these sources.
There are a variety of ways those with unwanted pregnancies are introduced to, including medicines or pills, drinking of ‘blue bleach’, jumping from high places, carrying heavy loads, sex when pregnant, drinking strong tea. These are ways, according to participants, to abort or try “to drop the baby.”
There are also traditional methods of abortions. In other words these are ways of terminating the pregnancy or simply “getting rid of the baby.”
There are studies that reveal globally an estimated 3.2 million unsafe abortions among 15-19 year-old women in developing countries each year.
A separate study by two Pacific women researchers referred to how the veil of secrecy surrounding anything to do with sex contributes to the increasing rates of abortion in young Pacific women in New Zealand.
“Denial, a lack of understanding about contraception and sexual health and an unwillingness to talk about sex result in young Pacific women being very vulnerable. The power and control of the church is also a major factor,” they said.
Planned Parenthood Role
In an apparent attack against abortion laws, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF 2014) issued this statement: “The stigma surrounding abortion, laws that make abortion illegal, a lack of youth-friendly services, and the constrained agency of young women act as barriers to adolescent women and girls accessing safe abortion.”
IPPF is a non-government international organization that advocates for the right of the individual to make his or her own choices in family planning.
In the USA, Planned Parenthood Federation is partially federal funded. Almost 40% of all abortions in the USA are carried out by PPF. Every year, they perform 345,672 abortions. In fact of all clients seeking counsel and help from PPF, 96.1% of pregnant clients get abortions.
PFF has carried out 8,965,000 abortions to date. That is inclusive of the US total abortions of 50 million. That is 50 million abortions carried out legally; 50 million unborn babies terminated.
The major concerns presented in the report had to do with welfare of the prospective mother: what is most convenient for her not only personally but also socially. Concerns are expressed about her mental and physical health, and also her right to make decision concerning her pregnancy.
But there is nothing at all expressed concerning the right of the unborn child to live, the responsibility of the pregnant woman (and even the prospective father) concerning the child conceived.
The lack of knowledge about sex and reproductive health is no excuse to lack of taking responsibility for actions that bring about pregnancy. Yes, the need for sex education and proper informed counsel about reproductive health is important. But the question remains as to why it is that the life and the rights of the unborn do not seem to be of any concern.
Uniqueness of Tonga
The abortion option is not only illegal in Tonga, but also an action of serious moral violation, strictly against Christian teaching. Tonga is a deeply Christian religious country.
What is recommended and advocated in the report however seems to be that it is not okay to let a vulnerable pregnant teen risk her life with a pregnancy she takes no responsibility for. But it is okay to take the life of the unborn to save the life of the mother from the inconveniences of child bearing.
It is not the responsibility of the unborn that the mother is pregnant. The unborn is the innocent victim in an abortion.
There are issues that have not been widely researched or talked about, but it seems a narrative had been written already, and all that was needed is for an unbalanced and one-sided research to produce data and the stories to fit that narrative.
The need to find solutions to the problem of adolescent unplanned pregnancy would need to be better researched and publicly dialogued even before recommendations could be made and considered.
Often, the medicine recommended for an illness with moral implications can be more dangerous than the illness itself. In this case, it is not a “side effect” but a “direct effect” in which the life of the unborn is of no value. And this contradicts nature, reality, and Biblical truth.
Ana Tausinga, business owner and media activist who lives in the US responded to the question, should abortion be allowed in Tonga?
“The report presented recommendations for long-term changes that needs to happen. Hon. ‘Amelia Afuha’amango Tu’ipulotu said that repeal of the abortion legislation needs to be studied. ‘And now we have a piece of evidence.’ I hope the Minister studies the research on how abortion negatively affects women psychologically, spiritually, as well as biologically.”
“It is disheartening to see the Minister of Health make those comments when the report is based on 15 young adolescent girls throughout Ha’apai, Vava’u and Tongatapu,” she said.
“This report needs to be reviewed with various stakeholders and leaders in the communities to decide the best course of action to help young women deal with the hardships of an unplanned pregnancy. Reproductive health under the guise of abortion is harmful for women. Every life has intrinsic value, and the life of the unborn is a responsibility for society to ensure they, too, have the right to life under the law. Western society has abortion on demand, yet it doesn’t solve the issue but perpetuate it.”
Tausinga says: “Is this a feminist push to open the gates to abortion in Tonga? America has killed over 50 million unborn babies since it was legalized. Has that solved their social problems of unplanned pregnancies?”
Abortions are illegal in Tonga, according to section 103-105 of the Criminal Offenses Act. There is no exception to prohibition against the performance of all abortions, unless medical authorities cite preservation of maternal health, with up to three years imprisonment for any woman who induces an abortion, and up to seven years imprisonment for anyone with intent to procure a miscarriage that administers any drug or noxious thing, or unlawfully uses any means.
Another recommendation in the report is for Tonga to ratify the Convention for the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Tonga is the only country in the Pacific that has not ratified CEDAW.
Opponents to CEDAW in Tonga, comprising most of the churches, claim that the agreement can open the door for changes to the abortion legislation, “as it claims to discriminate against the rights of women to decide what to do with their bodies.”
In Samoa, abortion is only legal if it will save the mother’s life or preserve her physical or mental health and only when the gestation period is less than 20 weeks.
In Fiji, abortion is legal only if it will save a women’s life or if the pregnancy gravely endangers the women’s physical or mental health. In 2010 abortions to end pregnancies that are the result of rape and incest became legally available to women.
In New Zealand however, abortion is legal, yet New Zealand still holds the highest rate of death by suicide in the Pacific region, and one of the highest in the world.
The report strongly recommends the strengthening of engagement with organizations and key members of the community that have been advocating for strengthened sexual reproductive health education and/or gender equality, access to contraception, abortion legislation review and repeal and ratification of CEDAW.
The three organizations mentioned in the report that advocate for the findings and recommendations are the Tonga Family Health Association, Talitha Project, and Women and Children Crisis Center (WCCC).