St. Maarten Parliamentarians divided about legalized abortion

POSTED: 07/7/11 2:40 PM

Penalties up to twelve years in draft penal code

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – The Parliament of St. Maarten is divided about the legalization of abortion, this newspaper learned from a round of phone calls that reached ten of the fifteen parliamentarians. Of the group of ten, four MPs declined to comment, three were pro life, and three were pro choice.

In the draft penal code Justice Minister Duncan intends to send to the Parliament towards the end of this month abortion is a punishable act. This is similar to the Dutch penal code, but the Dutch version contains one important exception: abortion is not punishable if it is performed in a designated clinic. St. Maarten’s draft code currently does not contain this exception.

Doctors who perform an abortion would be risking four years imprisonment if the procedure is performed with the permission of the pregnant girl or woman. If the procedure results in death, the maximum penalty is six years, and if the abortion is performed without permission the maximum punishment is twelve years behind bars.

Public Prosecutor mr. Bart den Hartigh told this newspaper yesterday that the right to give or withhold permission rests with the pregnant woman or girl, even if she is a minor. If a 14-year old were pregnant and her parents wanted her to undergo an abortion while the girl objected, a doctor who performed the procedure all the same would be considered to have done this without permission and therefore risk the maximum penalty of twelve years.

When we first asked a reaction about Minister Duncan’s abortion position, the day after he said on Radio Soualiga’s For the Record that he tends to be pro choice, Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger handily evaded a straight answer by saying that Duncan is not one to shy away from controversial topics. Duncan also mentioned euthanasia, or assisted suicide, as a topic that needs to be discussed. “Next thing you know, he’ll start about same sex marriage,” Heyliger said.

When we called independent MP Patrick Illidge this week with the question: Are you pro choice or pro life? he answered “For now I have no comment on it. What is important right now is what is going on at GEBE.”

When we put the same question to Democratic Party faction leader Roy Marlin, the reaction was also guarded. “You caught me off-guard with that question,” Marlin said. “I won’t be able to give you an answer right now. I think we have to look at this from a party’s perspective and not from an individual point of view.”

United People’s party faction leader Romain Laville’s initial reaction also seemed defensive. “You caught me at a bad time. I am in a meeting right now and there are people around me. I cannot talk about this right now. I’ll call you back in an hour.”

That did not happen, but the next day we did talk to Laville and this time he was open and clear about his position. “At the end of the day I believe in a woman’s right to choose, but there are a lot of different factors that need to be considered. How this will be defined I do not know at this moment, but it is a woman’s right to choose. The discussion about this issue has to be broad, beyond our comfort zone. We need a good discussion and we need to keep an open mind.”

We reached UP’s Sylvia Meyers-Olivacci in Orlando. “I have not had a chance to study this,” she said, “I do not want to give information right now.”

Her fellow faction member dr. Ruth Douglas did not need to study anything: “I am a Christian and I am pro life. I won’t condone abortion.”

Dr. Lloyd Richardson (National Alliance) made a distinction between his personal view and that what is needed for the community. “I am pro life. I am a Christian and I promote the family life wherein children have a father and a mother. That is the best situation for a child’s development. But there are too many unfortunate situations.”

With that last remark, Richardson referred to teen pregnancies. “When a minor has to take responsibility for a child things get complicated. They are not ready to look after children and the father usually disappears. I think that people should be given the chance to decide whether or not they want to bring a child into the world. It is good to let the parents decide.”

But Richardson said that the government cannot make legislation in this field without offering those who choose to bear the child without a social safety net. “We must provide them with social programs,” he said. “My personal ideals are different from what our society requires. We cannot say that we are pro life without making provisions. It has to be conditional.”

NA’s Frans Richardson was brief and clear in his comment: “I am always pro choice.”

His colleague George Pantophlet was more cautious and kept his opinion to himself: “I want to see the information first,” he said.

UP faction members Jules James and Johan Leonard have the same position. “Pro life,” James said, and Leonard: “I think I am pro life. No abortion”

Attempts to reach other parliamentarians, like Parliament President Gracita Arrindell and National Alliance leader William Marlin failed yesterday.

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