The abortion debate is very emotional. Many insults are flying around. Some, unfortunately never learn.
The basic premise underlying the abortion debate is identical to that of the divorce debate: ethical pluralism reigns. Meaning that different values and attitudes co-exist. It is a clash of values that has been building up over a number of years, far away from the public eye. Discussion has been continuously postponed due to the fear generated by an intolerant society founded on fundamentalism. A lay society has in the meantime developed and manifested itself clearly in the divorce referendum and subsequent acceptance of LGBTIQ rights.
It is incorrect to select “the worst” type of abortion and presenting it as the prototype
The “pro-life” campaign against abortion is focusing on “abortion on demand” which practically does not exist anywhere and presenting this as the prototype. On this basis the campaign propagates an emotionally charged message instead of appealing to a reasoned approach. A message aimed at instilling extreme fear even though it is not the least convincing.
The pro-choice campaign on the other hand argues that a woman has the right to determine her choices without interference from anyone. This includes the right to determine if and when to have an abortion. This is a neo-liberal attitude which considers that there are no limits to individual liberty.
The debate is a contrast between these two extremes. Dialogue, on the other hand, leads you elsewhere, considering the exceptional circumstances in which an abortion may be justified. The emotional arguments ignore all this thereby undermining the mature discussion which this country has a right to. The country does not require abortion as a lifestyle: rather it is required as a remedy in extraordinary circumstances.
Abortion is practised in Malta. It is practised by women who purchase abortion pills online which they take without medical direction. All sorts of medical complications arise. No statistics are available as to the number of those who require hospitalisation as a result.
Abortion is carried out at Mater Dei Hospital in circumstances to safeguard the life of women who face serious complications at some point in their pregnancy. Recently the press highlighted the controversy on ectopic pregnancies, that is when a fertilised ovum is lodged in the female Fallopian tube. If left untreated this leads to a rupture of the said tube thereby placing the life of the pregnant woman in extreme danger.
The medicine administered in such cases serves to dislodge the fertilised ovum which is subsequently discharged. If there is a delay in administering the medicine, or if this is ineffective, a physical intervention (surgery) would be essential. In both circumstances this is an abortion which is carried out a number of times annually in the state hospital. However, no one ever complains as it is considered by all as a necessary and essential intervention, even if the law considers this as an illegal situation.
It is clear to all that public opinion in Malta generally accepts abortion when this is carried out to address the danger to the life of a pregnant woman.. At the end of the day in these circumstances abortion is tolerated.
There are other circumstances when abortion is acceptable. I refer to cases of rape or incest. When a pregnancy is the result of violence, an abortion, preferably in the earliest possible stages of a pregnancy is acceptable. A woman who has been subjected to violence should find comfort in the law otherwise she would be subject to violence for a second time.
Some time back I had written an article about tests being carried out in order to identify specific abnormalities in the foetus. In such cases depending on the results of the tests, abortions are being carried out.
This selectivity is definitely unacceptable. However, one must look beyond this and try to understand the underlying reasons for such choices. One would immediately understand that the prospective parent/s are making a forceful statement that notwithstanding existing help they feel that they are not able to shoulder the burden of the indicated disability. Notwithstanding the substantial progress registered over the years there are still substantial gaps. Parents feel this much more than anyone else.
Occasionally we read about abortion resorted to in order not to endanger career development. There are alternatives to such a course of action starting from education on reproductive health which ought to instil a greater sense of responsibility in both man and woman.
Poverty is another situation which may lead to opting for an abortion. It has been asserted that in circumstances of poverty a woman may opt for an abortion. Alternatives exist even in such circumstances: these have however been ignored. It is poverty which has to be addressed and not its consequences. Even in these circumstances the impact of a lack of education on reproductive health is glaring.
Providing adequate reproductive health education would in the long run lead to less abortions. This is required not just by women but also by men who generally require a greater sense of responsibility.
Decriminalisation is central to the change required. No woman should be subject to criminal action for making use of abortion pills which she receives through the post or for opting for an abortion after being violently impregnated. Women who opt for abortion are themselves victims who should find full protection of the law and not be criminalised.
In the light of the above the proposals put forward by Marlene Farrugia earlier this week will aid the development of the public debate. Unfortunately matters were done somewhat in a hurry as the public was not prepared for these developments. But maybe shocking the public was part of the strategy!
We require a calm debate as this is the only manner in which we can clearly understand each other’s arguments. This is a debate that will not be over in a few days. Being rational and calm is the least we can do.
Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 May 2021