Labour’s half-baked abortion proposal

On Monday Parliament approved at first reading stage Bill number 28 which Bill seeks to clarify the provisions of the Criminal Code relative to therapeutic abortion. Specifically, the objects and reasons of the Bill seek to “provide clarification on the parameters that shall apply in the Criminal Code to circumstances of necessity in which a medical intervention is required in order to protect the life and health of a pregnant woman suffering from a medical complication”.

Some may consider that Bill 28 is a good first step in a country which has continuously avoided debating abortion. Unfortunately, government’s proposal is half-baked.

After years of avoiding a national debate, it would have been much better if government published a detailed White Paper explaining its views on abortion and the related issues and principles. It is about time that we recognise that the country’s abortion legislation is not fit for purpose. After being ignored for 160 years Maltese abortion legislation requires to be brought in line with medical and scientific progress over the years. It also requires a substantial redrafting in view of the fact that for over a decade Malta has embraced ethical pluralism.

It is clear that government has limited itself to addressing the political fallout resulting from the recent case of the American tourist Andrea Prudente as a result of which Malta failed in the provision of the expected medical care.

We do not require a half-baked reactive proposal but rather a proposal which addresses twenty-first century reality. Whether we like it or not, abortion is a regular occurrence among Maltese too! Indications point towards an average 400 abortions which are carried out annually, a substantial portion of which through the use of abortion pills acquired through the post. Others are carried out through abortion tourism, primarily in the United Kingdom as is evidenced by annual published medical returns for England and Wales.

Apparently, the Labour Party is short on ideas as it has even failed to address abortion in its electoral manifesto for the March 2022 general election.

In contrast to the reluctance of the Labour Party to come forward with proposals, the Maltese Greens, which I lead, have, over the past months presented proposals which in addition to the required clarifications in our legislation seek decriminalisation as well as the specific introduction of abortion in three extraordinary circumstances: namely when the pregnant female’s health or life is under threat, in cases of a pregnancy brought about violently (rape and incest) as well as in the case of non-viable pregnancies.

Some have considered our above proposals as being too little, others as being too much. We consider that in view of the prevailing local circumstances our proposals are just right, a substantial improvement over government’s half-baked proposals and an overhaul of the current mid-nineteen century legislation, which is out of tune with what is expected in this day and age.

There are other related issues which we should also discuss. During this week a group of local academics and some hangers-on have published a discussion paper which discusses government’s abortion proposal.

The proposals in the said discussion paper seek to tightly define the circumstances which justify a medical intervention to protect the life and health of a pregnant woman. It also seeks to exclude all forms of abortion by tightly defining the applicable parameters.

It is a point of view which should be considered and discussed. This is what a mature public debate should be about and what government has been continuously avoiding. I would however expect other academics having different views to come out of the deep freeze and speak up.

We should look beyond the restrictive proposals presented in the discussion paper. Since the 2011 divorce referendum Malta has embarked on a journey of ethical pluralism which respects a plurality of views and ethical norms. The discussion paper is a negation of this journey and an attempt to change course, which attempt should be resisted.

At the end of the day the debate is not about what is right and wrong but on who should take the decision and the parameters within which it is permissible to act. We are not living in a theocracy. Differing views and values can definitely co-exist.

Let the debate, at last, begin.

published on Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 November 2022

Malta: exporting abortion

The saga of the life-saving abortion required by American tourist Andrea Prudente has come to an end in Malta. Her case has now been exported to the Spanish island of Mallorca where hopefully it will be satisfactorily settled. The matter has been dealt with in a manner identical to the case of Maltese-Canadian Marion Mifsud Nora in 2014. Today’s case was exported by Malta to Mallorca while the 2014 case was exported to Paris. The support of their travel insurers to transfer them by air ambulance to foreign jurisdictions was in both cases crucial in overcoming the lack of the Maltese state in providing adequate medical care.

The Maltese state has failed Andrea Prudente. It had also failed Marion Mifsud Nora. Likewise, it fails to protect every Maltese woman faced with a life-threatening pregnancy. Maltese women in these circumstances unfortunately suffer in silence and rarely speak up. The Maltese state lacks empathy towards any woman facing a difficult pregnancy.

Apparently, the fundamentalists running Mater Dei have learnt nothing in the last eight years after they exported the Mifsud Nora case to Paris. This notwithstanding the opinion expressed publicly by a number of eminent jurists: that when a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life, its termination is already permissible at law. In such cases the termination of a pregnancy has even been described as being an act of self-defence, permissible at law.

Exporting these two abortion cases to mainland Europe adds to the abortion tourism which is known to exist between Malta and the European mainland, primarily with the UK and Italy, even though this is not limited to these two countries.

ADPD-The Green Party has been the only political party to continuously speak up about the matter. The silence of the others is deafening!

We need an urgent overhaul of the outdated abortion legislation on Malta’s statute books.

The least we can do is to ensure the urgent removal of any legal ambiguity currently shielding the fundamentalists running Mater Dei from intervening medically to terminate a non-viable pregnancy.

Members of the local medical profession are unfortunately in the same situation as their Irish counterparts who dealt with the 2012 case of Savita Halappanavar. They are afraid to act to protect the health of patients in these circumstances. In similar circumstances Savita Halappanavar died under the watchful eyes of the Irish medical profession who felt that they could not intervene due to the then legal prohibition of any form abortion in Ireland.

Ireland has in the meantime successfully learnt its lessons and immediately proceeded to dismantle its abortion prohibitions. This involved a national referendum which by over 66 per cent voted in favour of the proposal of a Christian Democrat led government (Fine Gael) to proceed with the introduction of abortion.

Ireland has learnt the hard way in order to proceed with ensuring that ethical pluralism in its midst is adequately respected.

The writing is on the wall.

While the other political parties have been generally silent, ADPD – The Green Party is one of two political parties in Malta to speak up. ADPD supports the decriminalisation of abortion and the introduction of abortion in limited circumstances, that is to say when the pregnant woman’s life is in manifest danger, in respect of a pregnancy which is the result of violence (rape and incest) and in respect of a non-viable pregnancy.

The export of abortion to other countries will not solve or address the deficiencies of Maltese abortion legislation which, enacted over 160 years ago, is long overdue for an overhaul to bring it in line with current medical practice and developments.

The Parliamentary parties are unfortunately not interested in all this. Their policies for the foreseeable future are still export oriented.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 June 2022

Ethical pluralism: the next steps

Malta’s divorce referendum in 2011 has reinforced ethical pluralism in the Maltese islands.

The intensive debate on civil rights, IVF and abortion are a direct result of the divorce referendum. All this would not have been possible without the positive 2011 divorce referendum result. Prejudices and inhibitions are being slowly overcome.

The debate on civil rights is substantially settled, even though there is always room for improvement. The IVF debate is works in progress: with the PN having buckled under pressure as a result of Bernard Grech’s U-turn in Parliament on Wednesday, even this debate seems to be on track towards a possible satisfactory conclusion. In particular Bernard Grech rightly discarded the reaction of his health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri.

The next steps relate to the abortion debate.

ADPD – The Green Party is only one of two political parties in Malta to support the decriminalisation of abortion and the introduction of abortion in limited circumstances, that is to say when the pregnant woman’s life is in manifest danger, in respect of a pregnancy which is the result of violence (rape and incest) and in respect of a non-viable pregnancy.

Early this week the Women’s Rights Foundation (WRF) has gone a step further. Through a judicial protest it has taken the State Advocate as well as the Health and the Equality Ministers to task on abortion legislation arguing that current abortion legislation discriminated against all persons who can get pregnant and obstructed them from making choices in their private lives. The judicial protest submitted on behalf of more than 188 potential mothers is the first shot in what promises to be a long drawn up legal battle, right up to Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights, should this be necessary.

The abortion debate has been and will remain highly emotional. To date Malta’s predominantly conservative institutions have been intolerant and have done their utmost to obstruct this debate from developing. This situation cannot and will not last much longer as it is inconceivable in this day and age to further obstruct the co-existence of contrasting values: ethical pluralism is here to stay.

The decriminalisation of abortion and its possible legalisation, irrespective whether limited or otherwise, signifies one basic and important decision. It means that that the state no longer takes the decision on your behalf but rather that you will be able to take your own decision, subject to a regulatory framework which sets reasonable limits.  

It is estimated that around 400 Maltese women every year opt for an abortion. Some go abroad, others take pills, without medical supervision, which pills they receive through the post. Others resort to backstreet abortions. Prohibiting and criminalising abortion only drives it underground, away from the medical services, as a result exposing women to death or serious medical repercussions.

Therapeutic abortion is already permissible in the Maltese islands although this is not that clear in Maltese legislation. The way forward in the debate is to realise that abortion legislation in Malta, first enacted over 160 years ago, is not fit for purpose and needs a complete overhaul. It requires to be brought in line with medical and scientific progress over the years.

Decriminalisation and legalisation of abortion in limited circumstances should be the way forward. No woman who opts for an abortion for whatever reason should be subject to criminal law. Any woman in such circumstances needs help, empathy and not state prosecution. This is the way forward.

published in Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 June 2022

It-timbru tal-President tar-Repubblika

L-aħħar diskors tal-President, f’Għawdex fl-okkazjoni ta’ Jum ir-Repubblika, juri President inkwetat għax in-nies kienu qed jgħidulu biex ma jiffirmax il-liġi, approvata mill-Parlament, dwar l-użu responsabbli tal-cannabis.

Il-President George Vella, inkwetat, wieġeb, korrettement, li hu m’għandux dan il-poter li ma jiffirmax liġi approvata mill-Parlament. Għax hu l-Parlament li għandu l-poter demokratiku. Jekk il-President għax tniggżu l-kuxjenza ma jridx jiffirma, ikollu jwarrab, u jiffirma l-President li jilħaq ftit siegħat warajh.

Id-diffikultà, naħseb jien, hi li għal dawn l-aħħar snin qed ikollna President li jparla ħafna. President li qed jikkummenta fuq diversi materji ta’ kontroversja. Hu inevitabbli allura li jekk il-Presidenza tibqa’ tgħaddi l-kummenti ser tibqa’ l-pressjoni fuqha biex taġixxi mod u mhux mod ieħor.

Tajjeb li il-President tar-Repubblika jkun iktar minn timbru.

Fil-fatt fil-proċess konsultattiv dwar ir-riforma Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika, illum ADPD, ippreżentat proposti prattiċi dwar kif u f’liema ċirkustanzi l-President jista’ ma jiffirmax liġi u jibgħatha lura għand il-Parlament biex dan jikkunsidrha mill-ġdid.

Għax il-President tar-Repubblika m’għandux ikun timbru għal dak li jagħmel jew irid jagħmel il-Gvern.

Id-dokument li nirreferi għalih dwar ir-riforma kostituzzjonali tista’ tarawh hawn.

Towards a wider cannabis consensus

It has been more than 10 years since the publication of the report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan. One of its main recommendations was to end criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.  

The changes in drug legislation approved by Parliament earlier this week as a result of which the possession of cannabis for personal use was decriminalised was a definite step in the right direction. This does not however signify that all provisions of the approved legislation are satisfactory. It means that the general thrust of the legislation is positive and acceptable. Improvements are however still necessary.

The legislation approved earlier this week is a radical change and as such there is still a reluctance in some quarters and sectors about it. This is understandable. It is however a fact that the decriminalisation of the possession of cannabis for personal use has been generally accepted. This is a reflection of the positive development in our society’s attitudes and should form the basis for the way forward.

The Daniel Holmes case as a result of which the cultivation of a number of cannabis plants for personal use led to a draconian prison sentence is too recent for anyone of us to forget. Until this week, drug legislation was out of tune and not an adequate reflection of what our society is prepared to accept.

The publication of the 24-page White Paper in March 2021 entitled “Towards the strengthening of the legal framework on the responsible use of cannabis” should not be viewed as an end in itself but rather as part of a continuous consultation process with all stakeholders. It has to be borne in mind that notwithstanding the sterling work of the NGO ReLeaf Malta on behalf of cannabis users there are others who, while recognising the urgent need for reform, are however much more cautious and would prefer that the required reforms are more gradual.

Ignoring the rudderless parliamentary Opposition, which does not yet have a clue on the issue, I refer to various proposals on the drug reform legislation which proposals were prepared by a number of NGOs and presented to Parliament.  Parliament was wrong to ignore these proposals and to steamroll ahead, notwithstanding. Such an attitude is not conducive to good governance. Parliament ought to have listened much more before deciding. This applies even if at the end of the day not all of the proposals made by the NGOs would have been taken on board.

At this critical juncture it is imperative that the drug reform is supported by as wide as possible a base. The consensus achieved has to be as wide as possible. This is essential in order to isolate those elements in our society who still believe that the criminalisation of cannabis users should be the rule.

It has been estimated that in 2021 there are around 40,000 consumers of cannabis in Malta. That is the current state of play after 40 years of militarised crackdown on cannabis use in the Maltese Islands. Criminalisation of cannabis users has not yielded any tangible positive results over the years.

The way forward in drug reform is to ensure that possession for personal use can be dealt with differently from trafficking. The legislation which Parliament approved earlier this week does precisely that. It can however be improved by ensuring that there are suitable buffers which protect children and vulnerable persons. This is one of the principal points made by the NGOs, who, to their credit, accept decriminalisation of possession for personal use of cannabis as a positive step forward.

Greens in Malta support the need for drug reform in general and specifically the decriminalisation for personal use relative to cannabis. In fact, the Green Electoral Manifesto for the 2017 General Election was the only electoral platform which presented this as an electoral pledge.

It is indeed unfortunate that Government and Parliament have squandered a unique opportunity at consensus building. It is however still possible at this late hour to remedy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 December 2021

Il-kannabis : lejn politika b’wiċċ uman

Il-politika dwar id-droga, sal-lum falliet.

Il-partit li immexxi hu l-uniku li kellu l-kuraġġ li f’elezzjoni ġenerali jitkellem ċar dwar dan.

Fl-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2017 għidna hekk fil-Manifest Elettorali: “Wasal iż-żmien li l-użu tal-kannabis tkun aċċettata mil-liġi. Għandu jkun possibli li l-kannabis tinxtara, taħt kontrolli adegwati, minn ħwienet liċenzjati apposta għal dan l-iskop kif ukoll li din tkun soġġett għall-istess tassazzjoni bħas-sigaretti u t-tabakk. Ir-restrizzjonijiet li japplikaw għar-riklamar tat-tabakk għandhom japplikaw ukoll għal kannabis. Għandu jkun possibbli ukoll li persuna tkabbar il-pjanta għall-użu personali tagħha. Il-kannabis tagħmel inqas ħsara mit-tabakk u mill-alkoħol li t-tnejn huma legali. Ma jagħmilx sens li nibqgħu naħlu r-riżorsi tal-pajjiż niġru wara min juża l-kannabis li għandha effetti komparabbli għall-użu tat-tabakk u l-alkoħol. Hu iktar utli li r-riżorsi tal-pulizija jintużaw biex jinqabdu t-traffikanti ta’ drogi qawwija u perikolużi.

Il-liġi li l-Parlament għadu kif approva timxi f’din id-direzzjoni.

Kont nippreferi lil-Gvern mexa b’iktar rispett lejn l-opinjoni pubblika. Kien ikun iktar floku li ippubblika l-istudji li saru. Il-konsultazzjoni, għalkemm saret, setgħet kienet ħafna aħjar.

Hemm ukoll in-nuqqas fil-liġi li ma tagħmilx biżżejjed emfasi fuq il-ħarsien tat-tfal. Id-distanza ta’ 250 metru għall-klabbs tal-Kannabis mill-iskejjel mhiex biżżejjed, per eżempju.

Issa nistennew ir-regolamenti li bihom ser tkun implimentata l-liġi.

Meħtieġa: politika dwar id-droga b’wiċċ uman

Id-dibattitu ta’ bħalissa fil-Parlament dwar riforma fil-qasam tad-droga messu ilu li sar.

Il-manifest elettorali tal-partit tiegħi għall-elezzjoni ġenerali tal- 2017 kien l-unika wieħed li tkellem b’mod ċar dwar il-ħtieġa li nintroduċu politika dwar id-droga b’wiċċ uman. Il-politika dwar id-droga illum tikkastiga lill-vulnerabbli billi tikkriminalizza l-użu tad-droga. Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga għandha tkun parti minn viżjoni iktar wiesa’, fit-tul,  bl-iskop li tgħin u mhux li tikkastiga lil min hu vulnerabbli. Dan m’ghandux ikun limitat għall-kannabis, imma għandu japplika għal kull xorta ta’ droga.

Id-dokument konsultattiv ippubblikat f’Marzu li għadda dwar it-tisħiħ tal-qafas legali għall-użu responsabbli tal-kannabis flimkien mad-dibattitu parlamentari li għaddej bħalissa huma pass sinifikanti l-quddiem.

Għandna nifhmu, li, kif ippruvat tul is-snin, il-kriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga ma solva xejn! Kien fl-2011 li l-Kummissjoni Globali dwar il-politika għad-droga, immexxija minn Kofi Anan, ex-Segretarju Ġenerali tal-Ġnus Maghquda, kienet iddikjarat li l-ġlieda globali kontra d-droga kienet falliet u dan b’konsegwenzi diżastrużi kemm individwalment kif ukoll għas-soċjetà.

Ewlenija fost ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet tal-Kummissjoni globali hemm it-tmiem tal-kriminalizzazzjoni, tal-marġinalizzazzjoni u tal-istigmatizzazzjoni ta’ dawk li jagħmlu użu personali mid-droga mingħajr ma jagħmlu l-ebda ħsara lill-ħaddieħor.

In-numru ta’ vittmi hu wieħed sostanzjali. Numru mhux żgħir ta’ ħajjiet intilfu jew ġew irvinati ħtija ta’ din il-gwerra kontra d-droga.   Isem partikolari li jiġi quddiem għajnejja hu dak ta’  Daniel Holmes li dabbar sentenza sostanzjali ta’ ħabs f’Malta għax kabbar il-pjanti tal-kannabis għall-użu tiegħu.  Ma għamel ħsara lil ħadd, imma spiċċa jerfa’ fuq spallejh sentenza twila ta’ ħabs. Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ inġustizzja kriminali.

Il-proposti li presentement hemm quddiem il-Parlament huma limitati għall-kannabis, avolja fost ir-responsabbiltajiet tal-Awtorità dwar l-Użu Responsabbli tal-Kannabis hu emfasizzat li din l-Awtorità tkun tista’ “tipparteċipa fil-proċess nazzjonali tal-ippjanar dwar il-politika soċjali u l-politika dwar il-mediċini perikolużi”. Hu possibli li l-leġislatur għandu pjani oħra f’moħħu għall-futur, imma dawn, s’issa għadhom mhux magħrufa.

Il-proposta għad-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tal-kannabis tagħmel sens f’kuntest ta’ politika olistika dwar id-droga li ma tibqax tikkonsidra l-użu tad-droga f’kuntest kriminali imma f’kuntest soċjo-mediku. Dan jirrikjedi iktar ħsieb, analiżi kif ukoll studji dwar impatti kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra. Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tal-kannabis għandha tkun  ikkunsidrata bħala parti minn politika dwar id-droga koerenti, b’wiċċ uman li tiddikriminalizza l-użu tad-drogi kollha.  

Min jagħmel użu okkażjonali tad-droga m’għandux ikun ikkunsidrata bħala kriminal. Il-vittmi u dawk dipendenti mid-droga għandhom bżonn l-għajnuna permezz ta’ esperti mħarrġa inkluż l-għajnuna medika kemm u kif meħtieġ.  

Il-Portugall mexa f’din it-triq u tul is-snin kellu success konsiderevoli li bħala riżultat tiegħu naqas l-użu ta’ kull tip ta’ droga kif ukoll naqset l-inċidenza tal-HIV.  Irridu nfasslu l-mixja tagħna biex nindirizzaw sewwa b’mod koerenti l-użu tad-droga f’pajjiżna.  

Il-kriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga għamlet ħsara ferm iżjed mid-droga innifisha. Ir-riżorsi tal-istat għandhom jintużaw biex intejbu l-ħajjiet tan-nies u mhux biex ikunu ikkastigati dawk li jeħtieġu l-għajnuna tagħna!  Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni u r-regolamentazzjoni tal-kannabis għandha tkun l-ewwel pass f’dan il-proċess.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Novembru 2021

Wanted: a drug policy with a human face

The current debate on drug reform, in parliament, is long overdue.

My party’s electoral platform for the 2017 general election was the only one which clearly and unequivocally spoke in favour of introducing a drug policy with a human face. Current drug policy punishes the vulnerable through the criminalisation of the use of drugs. Decriminalisation of drug use should be part of a long-term vision that aims to help and not punish the vulnerable.  This should not be limited to cannabis but should encompass all drug use.

The White Paper published last March on the strengthening of the legal framework relative to the responsible use of cannabis together with the parliamentary debate currently in progress are welcome first steps in this direction.

It is about time that we realise that, as proven over the years, considering drug use as a crime has not led to any significant result. It was in 2011 that the seminal Global Commission on Drug Policy led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan declared that the global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.

Foremost among the recommendations of the Global Commission was the end of criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.

The number of victims is substantial. Many lives have been lost or ruined as a result of this war on drugs. A specific person which comes to mind is Daniel Holmes who was sentenced to a substantial prison term in Malta for growing his own cannabis plants. He harmed no one, yet he was made to shoulder a heavy prison sentence. This is criminal injustice at its worst.

The proposals currently before Parliament are limited to the consideration of cannabis, even though amongst the functions of the proposed Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis one finds that it may “participate in the national planning process relating to social policy and dangerous drugs policy”. Possibly the legislator has some other plans which, however, are so far not known.

The proposed decriminalisation of cannabis use makes sense within the context of an holistic drugs policy which would shift the emphasis on addressing drug use from one based on criminal law to a socio-medical model. This requires much more thought, analysis and consideration of studies and impact assessments carried out both in Malta and abroad. It cannot remain on its own but needs to form part of a coherent drugs policy with a human face which decriminalises all drug use.

Those who occasionally make use of drugs should not be considered as criminals. Victims and those who become addicted as a result of more than an occasional use of drugs should be offered adequate support, through the assistance of trained social workers as well as medical assistance whenever this is required.

Portugal has followed this path and over the years has had a considerable success in reducing use of heavy drugs and HIV.  We have to design our own path towards addressing the uptake of drugs.

The criminalisation of drug use has ruined more lives than drug use itself. It is about time that we use the resources of the state to improve lives and not to punish those who need our help!  The decriminalisation and regulation of cannabis should be just the first step in such a process.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 November 2021

An invitation: keep the doors open

The abortion debate gets nastier by the minute. This was expected. It may even get worse!

The priest who described pro-choice PN candidate Emma Portelli Bonnici as a later day Hitler, kicked off this week’s instalment! The Archbishop’s Curia at Floriana forced the removal of the facebook post where he published these views: yet the damage was done. Will we ever learn to discuss anything respectfully? Is this too difficult to expect?

The Labour Party is being extremely cautious. It is very rare to hear any Labour Party speaker express himself or herself on the subject of abortion. Labour is aware of the different and contrasting views within its ranks when debating abortion. That in itself is healthy and could potentially lead to a mature debate. The current Labour Party leadership, however, as readers are aware, is acutely conservative on the matter even though there is a progressive element among its voters which is of the opposite view. This includes a couple of present and former electoral candidates and MPs/MEPs.

The PN on the other hand, going by Bernard Grech’s declaration earlier this week has not yet learnt its lessons from the divorce referendum campaign, ten years ago. I respect its political position on the matter but I still cannot understand its constant denigration of those within its ranks who have the courage to speak their mind. Stifling political debate is very damaging.  It has long-term effects which go much beyond the current debate!

As pointed out elsewhere, Bernard Grech’s declaration signifies one thing: the abortion debate is closed within the PN ranks, and anybody who dares think otherwise should start packing. From where I stand that is the clear message conveyed by Bernard Grech.

Within ADPD, the Green Party, last May, after a three year long internal debate, we approved a clear political position in favour of decriminalisation of abortion, as a result of which any woman opting for an abortion would not be subject to criminal action. We further emphasise that abortion should not be normalised but that it should be limited to specific, extraordinary and well-defined circumstances.

We have highlighted that Maltese legislation on abortion is not fit for purpose. It needs to be brought up to date after more than 160 years since its enactment. It requires to be brought in line with medical and scientific progress over the years.

We identify three such extraordinary circumstances in which abortion is justified, namely, when the life of the pregnant woman is in danger, when a pregnancy is the result of violence (rape and incest) and when faced with a pregnancy which is not viable.

There is definitely an urgent need for more emphasis on reproductive and sexual health education at all levels of our educational structures. This is a gap which needs plugging at the earliest!

We have been criticised by some as not going far enough. Others have stated that we have gone much too far.

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is key in the abortion debate. It is essential that women who undergo abortion are not threatened any more with persecution and prosecution. They need the state’s protection as a result of which more will seek help before taking critical decisions. This will save lives as well as avoid unnecessary medical complications.

The abortion debate in Malta is unfortunately characterised by long periods of silence, alternating with outbursts of hate, insults and extreme intolerance. This is definitely not on. Political parties should take the lead by encouraging contributions to a clear and objective debate.

While others close their doors to the debate, ours will remain wide open.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 November 2021

L-abort: nippruvaw niddiskutu bil-kalma

Id-dibattitu dwar l-abort hu wieħed emottiv. L-insulti u t-tgħajjir li għaddejjin huma bla limitu. Huwa f’din l-atmosfera li qed issir id-diskussjoni. Ċerti nies ma jitgħallmu qatt.

Id-dibattitu huwa ibbażat fuq l-istess punt fundamentali tad-dibattitu dwar id-divorzju: fil-pajjiż jirrenja l-pluraliżmu etiku. Jiġifieri jeżistu valuri kuntrastanti. Kuntrasti li ilhom jinbnew ftit ftit tul is-snin imma li ġew moħbija mil-lenti pubblika. Id-diskussjoni kienet waħda ipprojibita. Ma saritx minħabba l-biża’ minn soċjetà intolleranti, frott tal-fundamentaliżmu li għixna fih għal ħafna snin. Is-soċjetà tagħna illum żviluppat f’soċjetà lajka li immanifestat ruħha fir-referendum dwar id-divorzju u fl-aċċettazzjoni tad-drittijiet LGBTIQ.

Mhux kull abort hu xorta. Mhuwiex ġustifikat li taqbad l-“agħar każ ta’ abort” u tuża lilu bħala eżempju.

Il-kampanja kontra l-abort hi iffukata fuq abort bla limitu li ma jeżisti kważi mkien. Fuq l-iktar każ estrem, kontinwament jinbena argument li jappella għall-emozzjonijiet flok għar-raġuni. Argument li jbezza’ lil uħud imma li ma jikkonvinċix lill-kotra li kapaċi taħseb b’moħħa.

Il-kampanja favur id-dritt tal-għażla (pro-choice) min-naħa l-oħra tagħmlu l-argument li mara għandha dritt li tagħżel dak li trid, x’ħin trid u bla ma jindaħlilha ħadd. Dan jinkludi dritt li tagħżel jekk u meta tidħol għal abort. Argument neoliberali fejn il-libertà individwali m’għandhiex limiti.

Id-dibattitu hu kuntrast bejn dawn iż-żewġ estremi. Id-djalogu min-naħa l-oħra taf twasslek x’imkien ieħor li jkun aċċettat abort f’każijiet limitati fejn is-sens komun jgħidlek li dan hu ġustifikat. L-argumenti emottivi dan kollu jinjorawh u allura jimminaw d-diskussjoni matura li tant neħtieġu f’dan il-pajjiż. Il-pajjiż ma jeħtiegx l-abort bħala stil ta’ ħajja imma l-abort bħala rimedju f’ċirkustanzi straordinarji.

F’Malta l-abort isir. Jagħmluh n-nisa li jixtru pilloli online u jeħduhom mingħajr ma jikkonsultaw tabib, bil-kumplikazzjonijiet kollha possibli. Ma teżistix statistika dwar kemm minnhom jidħlu l-isptar bħala riżultat ta’ dan.

L-abort isir ukoll fl-isptar Mater Dei f’ċirkustanzi fejn tittieħed azzjoni biex tkun imħarsa l-ħajja ta’ nisa tqal li jiffaċċjaw kumplikazzjonijiet fit-tqala. Riċentment kellna l-polemika dwar t-tqala magħrufa bħala “ectopic”, jiġifieri meta l-bajda ffertilizzata teħel f’tubu intern fil-mara. Dan it-tubu (Fallopian tube) hu żgħir u jekk ma tittieħed l-ebda ażżjoni jinfaqa’ u jipperikola l-ħajja tal-mara tqila.

Il-kura li tingħata f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hi mediċina li taqla’ l-bajda iffertilizzata minn mat-tubu u tarmiha. Jekk dan idum ma jseħħ jikber il-periklu u tkun meħtieġa operazzjoni. Fiż-żewġ każi dan hu abort li bħalu jsiru numru kull sena f’Mater Dei. Imma ħadd ma jgħid xejn, għax kulħadd jaċċetta li dan hu intervent meħtieġ, anke jekk il-liġi tqis din is-sitwazzjoni bħala illegali.

Hu ċar li l-opinjoni pubblika f’Malta, fil-parti l-kbira taċċetta l-abort meta dan hu meħtieġ biex iħares il-ħajja tal-mara. Meta tiddiskuti bosta jaslu biex jaċċettaw li l-abort f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu tollerabbli.

Hemm ċirkustanzi oħra fejn l-abort hu inqas kontroversjali. Qed nirreferi għal meta jsir abort f’kaz ta’ stupru jew f’każ ta’ inċest. Fejn it-tqala hi sfurzata, bi vjolenza, hu ġustifikat li jsir abort preferibilment fil-fażi l-iktar kmieni possibli tat-tqala. Mara li għaddiet minn vjolenza ma tistax issib il-liġi bojja lesta biex tikkastigha, għax inkella tispiċċa soġġetta għal vjolenza doppja.

Xi żmien ilu ktibt artiklu fejn kont ikkumentajt dwar il-fatt li hawn min fil-fażi inizjali tat-tqala jagħmel xi testijiet u jekk minnhom jirriżulta xi difetti fil-fetu, il-mara tirrikorri għal abort. Dan mhux aċċettabbli. Imma mhux biżżejjed li ngħidu hekk. Hemm ħtieġa li nifhmu lil min jagħmel din l-għażla u nistaqsu jekk parti mir-raġuni hijiex soċjetà li ma tindukrax biżżejjed familji li jgħaddu minn sitwazzjonijiet ta’ disabililtà. Minkejja li sar progress kbir xorta għad hawn nuqqas enormi kemm ta’ komprensjoni kif ukoll ta’ għajnuna iffukata lejn min għandu bżonnha.

Xi kultant naqraw b’min jirrikorri għal abort għax it-tqala u t-twelid jitqiesu xkiel għall-iżvilupp tal-karriera! Hemm soluzzjonijiet diversi għal dawn it-tip ta’ ċirkustanzi, minn edukazzjoni aħjar dwar is-saħħa riproduttiva għal sens ikbar ta’ responsabbilta’ mhux biss tal-mara imma wkoll tar-raġel.

L-aħħar eżempju huwa fejn issir għażla favur l-abort minħabba l-faqar. Jintqal li hawn każi fejn il-mezzi ta’ familja huma tant ristretti li ma jifilħux għal wild ieħor. Anke hawn hemm soluzzjonijiet li minħabba n-nuqqas ta’ dibattitu pubbliku ftit li xejn jiġu esplorati. Irridu nindirizzaw l-għerq tal-faqar u mhux il-konsegwenzi tiegħu. Inkella nibqgħu fejn konna. Anke hawn in-nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni dwar is-saħħa riproduttiva hu enormi.

Mhux in-nisa biss jeħtieġilhom jitgħallmu iktar imma anke l-irġiel għandhom ħtieġa kbira għal dan: uħud jeħtieġu doża iktar qawwija ta’ rispett u sens ta’ responsabbiltà.

Id-dekriminalizzazzjoni, almenu f’ċerta aspetti, hi parti essenzjali mit-tibdil meħtieġ. L-ebda mara m’għandha tkun soġġetta għal passi kriminali għax ħadet il-pilloli li waslulha bil-posta inkella għax irrikorriet b’xi mod għall-abort wara vjolenza li taqqlitha. Il-mara li tagħmel abort hi ukoll vittma hi stess u teħtieġ l-għajnuna u mhux is-swat tal-liġi.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu l-proposta ta’ Marlene Farrugia iktar kmieni din il-ġimgha ser isservi biex taċċellera d-dibattitu pubbliku. Imma jkolli ngħid li saret ftit bil-għaġġla u hija nieqsa minn preparazzjoni pubblika dwarha.

Neħtieġu dibattitu kalm għax hu b’hekk biss li nistgħu nifhmu iktar lil xulxin. Dan hu dibattitu li mhux ser jispiċċa fi ftit ġranet iżda ser idum. Jekk ma nagħmluħx bil-kalma ma nkunu wasalna mkien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 16 ta’Mejju 2021