Supporting Bill 28

The amendment to the Criminal Code forming part of Bill 28 which Parliament started discussing on Monday 28 November codifies the existing practice at the state hospital. It defines the necessary legal framework for therapeutic abortion. It does not introduce the practice of therapeutic abortion: this has been the practice for quite some time.

The Bill avoids use of the term “abortion”, using instead the term “termination of a pregnancy”, which as we are all aware has exactly the same meaning!

Legislation to date relative to therapeutic abortion is not clear at this point in time. On this basis ADPD-The Green Party was the only political party which tackled the matter during the March 2022 electoral campaign, including a whole section on sexual health and reproductive rights in the electoral manifesto. We went much further than that, emphasising the need for the decriminalisation of abortion too.

The Labour Party in Government, which has been practically silent on the matter during the electoral campaign, has now decided to act, taking a minimalist approach. It has limited itself to ensuring that current practice is protected at law. While this is definitely not enough it is a welcome first step and deserves our full support, even though there is still room for improvement in the proposed text of the proposal.

The Labour Party is right in saying that it is not introducing abortion through Bill 28: therapeutic abortion has been here and practised for some time even in the state hospital. Consequently, the approval of Bill 28 as presented will, in practice, not change anything, it will merely recognise the current state of affairs. As a result, it will give peace of mind to medical practitioners in state hospitals as their current modus operandi would be clearly spelt out in the law, as it should be.

In a sense the current fierce and at times emotional debate on abortion is much ado about nothing. It has however resulted in the local conservative forces speaking from the same hymn book. The opposition to the Bill is primarily twofold. On one hand there is the PN official stand which, together with Archbishop Scicluna has adopted the position paper published by a group of academics. In practice they seek to limit permissible medical interventions to cases of a threat to the life of the pregnant woman, eliminating health issues as justification. On the other hand, exponents of the fundamentalist Christian right, including a minority in the PN rank and file oppose the Bill in principle.

Put simply, the debate identifies three different proposals. The first, proposed by the Labour government in Bill 28, enshrines in law the current practice and places the onus on the medical profession to decide each case on its own merits. The second, supported by the PN opposition and the Church hierarchy seeks to substantially limit the discretion of the medical profession in Bill 28 primarily by eliminating health and mental health considerations. The third position brought forward by the fundamentalist Christian faction is in total opposition to all that is being proposed.

During the Parliamentary debate held this week I took note of the various positive contributions, in particular those of Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg and Opposition spokespersons Joe Giglio and Mario Demarco. Of particular note, in my view, is Fearne’s reference to the hospital’s standard operating procedures. It is being emphasised that these procedures do in fact address important aspects of the criticism aired during the debate, in particular that decisions taken by the medical profession relative to therapeutic abortion procedures should be taken by two or more professionals in order to ensure that no professional shoulders the decision alone. This, I understand is already standard practice!

There is always room for improvement in the proposed text of the Bill as indicated in the level-headed approach of Joe Giglio during the Parliamentary debate on Wednesday. As I emphasised in my article last week it would have been much better if Government had embarked on an exercise of public consultation before presenting the Bill. There would definitely have been more time to listen to and digest the different views. A valid point which was also emphasised by Mario Demarco.

In this scenario, even though viewing it as just a first step, which can be improved: without any shadow of doubt, ADPD supports the proposal put forward by Bill 28 in principle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 December 2022

It-taħwida l-kbira dwar l-abort

Id-diskussjoni li qed tiżviluppa dwar l-abort hi taħwida waħda kbira. Taħwida li sfortunatament qed jikkontribwixxu għaliha kemm il-Knisja kif ukoll il-Partit Nazzjonalista.

L-abbozz ta’ liġi li ressaq il-Gvern hu dwar kif u meta, b’mod eċċeżżjonali, jista’ jkun hemm intervent mediku biex tintemm tqala. It-tmiem ta’ tqala hu definittivament abort: imma l-proposta hi dwar il-każijiet eċċezzjonali meta dan jista’ jsir u mhux kif qed jiġi kontinwament implikat b’mod malizzjuz.

Fir-realtà, anke dawk li qed jippontifikaw kontra l-abort qed jaċċettaw li hemm ċirkustanzi fejn dan hu permissibli. Id-dibattitu rejali għalhekk hu dwar liema huma dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi eċċezzjonali li fihom abort hu ġustifikat.

Il-Gvern qed jargumenta li apparti meta l-ħajja tal-mara tqila tkun fil-periklu jista’ jkun meħtieġ intervent meta is-saħħa tal-mara tqila tkun fil-periklu: is-saħħa hi ikkunsidrata fit-totalità tagħha jiġifieri tinkludi ukoll is-saħħa mentali. Dan hu tajjeb.

Ir-raġuni għall-inklużjoni fil-proposta tal-Gvern tad-deterjorament tas-saħħa tal-mara tqila bħala raġuni għat-tmiem ta’ tqala hi li m’għandekx toqgħod tistenna sakemm is-saħħa tkun ideterjorat tant li dan iwassal biex tpoġġi anke l-ħajja tal-mara f’periklu.

Il-kontro-argument għal dan kollu hu li dan jista’ jwassal għal abbuż.  Hu argumentat li l-parametri mfassla mill-Gvern huma wisgħin wisq u jistgħu jagħtu lok għal abbuż. Irridu nirrikonoxxu li dan hu dejjem possibli li jsir anke jekk dan ma naħsibx li hu intenzjonat.

Dan kollu għandu jwassal biex niddiskutu bi ftit iktar serjetà dwar x’miżuri għandhom jittieħdu biex ikun evitat dan il-possibli abbuż.

Wieħed mill-argumenti fid-discussion paper dwar il-proposta tal-Gvern li ġiet ippubblikata minn grupp ta’ akkademiċi hu li d-deċiżjoni dwar jekk għandux isir intervent biex tintemm tqala m’għandiex tittieħed minn persuna waħda iżda minn numru ta’ speċjalisti mediċi flimkien. Din il-proposta tista’ tkun soluzzjoni biex biha jkun hemm kontroll adegwat li bih ikun assigurat li ma jkunx hemm abbuż. Proposta li fil-fatt nisslet kummenti favorevoli mid-Deputat Prim Ministru Chris Fearne huwa u jressaq il-liġi fil-Parlament nhar it-Tnejn li għaddew.

Hemm bżonn ftit iktar serjetà fid-diskussjoni. Sfortunatament din hi nieqsa bil-kbir. Il-proposta tal-Gvern hi tajba: jeħtieġ iżda li jkun assigurat li d-dettalji tagħha jassiguraw li tista’ titħaddem b’mod li ma jsirux abbużi.

Din hi id-diskussjoni reali li għandna bżonn! Sfortunatament hi nieqsa.

Proposta nejja tal-Labour dwar l-abort

Nhar it-Tnejn, il-Parlament approva fl-istadju tal-ewwel qari, l-abbozz ta’ liġi numru 28. Dan l-abbozz hu intenzjonat biex jikkjarifika l-provedimenti tal-Kodiċi Kriminali dwar l-abort terrapewtiku. B’mod speċifiku l-għanijiet u r-raġunijiet tal-abbozz huma biex “jipprovdu kjarifika dwar il-parametri fil-Kodiċi Kriminali li għandhom japplikaw għal cirkostanzi ta’ neċessità fejn ikun meħtieġ intervent mediku biex tkun protetta l-ħajja u s-saħħa ta’ mara tqila li tkun qiegħda tbati minn kumplikazzjoni medika.”

Uħud jikkunsidraw li l-abbozz numru 28 hu pass żgħir il-quddiem f’pajjiż li kontinwament ipprova jevita li jiddibatti l-abort. Sfortunatament, imma, l-proposta li ġiet ippreżentata hi waħda nejja.  

Wara snin jevita dibattitu nazzjonali, kien ikun ferm iktar għaqli għall-Gvern li jippubblika White Paper fejn jispjega b’mod ċar u dettaljat dak li jrid jagħmel dwar l-abort kif ukoll dwar dak kollu relatat miegħu. Tajjeb li nirrealizzaw li l-leġislazzjoni dwar l-abort tal-pajjiż ma hi tal-ebda siwi. Wara li ġiet injorata għal 160 sena l-liġi teħtieġ li tkun aġġornata għaż-żminijiet u li tkun tirrifletti l-avvanzi fix-xjenza u l-mediċina tul dawn is-snin kollha. Hemm bżonn li tinkiteb mill-ġdid u dan fid-dawl tal-fatt li tul dawn l-aħħar għaxar sninil-pajjiż ħaddan il-plurliżmu etiku.

Hu ċar li l-Gvern qed jipprova jindirizza l-impatt politiku li rriżulta mill-kaz riċenti tat-turista Amerikana Andrea Prudente, f’liema każ Malta naqset milli tipprovdi l-kura medika li kienet mistennija.

M’għandniex ħtieġa ta’ proposta rejattiva, proposta nejja: imma għandna bżonn proposta li tindirizza ir-realtà tas-seklu wieħed u għoxrin.  L-abort hu parti integrali mill-ħajja Maltija, rridu jew ma irridux! L-indikazzjonijiet huma ta’ medja ta’ 400 abort li jsiru kull sena fost il-Maltin. Il-parti l-kbira jseħħu bl-użu ta’ pilloli li jinkisbu bil-posta.  Oħrajn iseħħu f’pajjiżi oħra, primarjament fir-Renju Unit kif jidher fir-rapporti mediċi annwali ippubblikati.

Il-Partit Laburista jidher li hu xott mill-ideat għax naqas ukoll milli jindirizza l-abort fil-manifest elettorali tiegħu għall-elezzjoni ġenerali ta’ Marzu 2022.

Dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn mill-Partit Laburista jikkuntrasta mal-proposti tal-partit immexxi minni li tul ix-xhur li għaddew ippreżentajna proposti diversi biex apparti iktar ċarezza fil-liġi nimxu lejn id-dikriminalizzazzjoni kif ukoll lejn l-introduzzjoni speċifika tal-abort limitat għal tlett ċirkustanzi partikolari u straordinarji. Il-proposta tagħna hi li l-abort ikun permissibli meta l-ħajja jew is-saħħa tal-mara tqila tkun mhedda, fil-kaz ta’ tqala li isseħħ riżultat ta’ vjolenza (stupru u incest) kif ukoll fil-kaz ta’ tqala li ma tkunx vijabbli.

Uħud jikkunsidraw li dak proposta hu ftit wisq, oħrajn li hu wisq. Fil-fehma tagħna il-proposta hi addattata għaċ-ċirkustanzi partikolari lokali. Hi proposta li mhux biss hi ferm aħjar mill-proposta nejja tal-Gvern, imma twassal ukoll biex il-liġi tkun aġġornata għal dak mistenni fi żmienna!

Hemm ukoll materji oħra li huma relatati u li jeħtieġ li jkunu diskussi. Matul din il-ġimgħa grupp ta’ akkademiċi lokali u oħrajn ippubblikaw dokument għad-diskussjoni in konnessjoni mal-proposta tal-Gvern dwar l-abort.

Il-proposti fid-dokument ippubblikat għad-diskussjoni jfittxu li jissikkaw id-definizzjonijiet dwar iċ-ċirkustanzi li fihom ikun ġġustifikat l-intervent mediku biex ikun possibli li tkun protetta l-ħajja u s-saħħa tal-mara tqila. Jeskludi ukoll kull xorta ta’ abort.

Il-punti mqajjma f’dan id-dokument hu dejjem utlili li jkunu diskussi. Għalhekk ilna ngħidu li hemm ħtieġa għal diskussjoni pubblika matura, diskussjoni li l-Gvern ilu żmien jevita.  Imma nistenna ukoll li jkun hemm akkademiċi oħra b’veduti u opinjonijiet differenti li anke huma jsemmgħu leħinhom. Għandhom bżonn joħorġu mill-friża.

Irridu nħarsu lil hinn mill-proposti restrittivi li dan id-dokument għad-diskussjoni jippreżenta. Sa mill-2011, meta kien approvat ir-referendum dwar id-divorzju, Malta għażlet it-triq tal-pluraliżmu etiku: rispett lejn il-pluralità ta’ opinjonijiet u valuri etiċi. Id-dokument li qed nirreferi għalih hu negazzjoni ta’ dan u effettivament hu proposta biex naqbdu triq oħra u differenti. Għandna nirreżistu dan l-attentat.

Fl-aħħar għandu jkun ċar li din mhiex diskussjoni dwar x’inhu tajjeb jew ħażin imma dwar min għandu jieħu d-deċiżjoni kif ukoll dwar il-parametri li jiddeterminaw kif u safejn nistgħu naġixxu. M’aħniex qed ngħixu f’teokrazija: hu dritt li naffermaw illi hu possibli li jeżistu veduti u valuri differenti.

B’hekk beda d-dibattitu li ilu żmien maħnuq.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 27 ta’ Novembru 2022

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

L-abort : l-emenda proposta mill-Gvern

Il-Gvern ħa pass tajjeb meta qed jipproponi emenda għall-Kodiċi Kriminali biex tkun protetta “is-saħħa ta’ mara tqila li tkun qiegħda tbati minn komplikazzjoni medika li tkun tista’ tqegħdilha ħajjitha f’riskju jew saħħitha f’periklu gravi” billi l-liġi dwar it-terminazzjoni ta’ tqala f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi tkun ċara, għax s’issa mhiex.

Dan hu pass il-quddiem. Imma mhux biżżejjed.

Kien ikun għaqli kieku l-Partit Laburista kellu l-kuraġġ li jitkellem dwar dan kollu fil-manifest elettorali tiegħu għall-elezzjoni ta’ Marzu li għadda. Dakinnhar, sfortunatament, beza’ jagħmel hekk.

L-ADPD kien ħafna iktar ċar milli kien il-Labour fuq dan kollu. Hemm ċirkustanzi oħra li jiggustifikaw abort li għandhom ikunu kkunsidrati ukoll. Aħna tkellimna spiss dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ abort terrapewtiku li għandu jinkludi l-possibilità ta’ abort meta tqala tkun riżultat ta’ vjolenza. Ukoll meta t-tqala ma tkunx waħda vijabbli.

L-ewwel pass issa sar. Anke jekk hu pass żgħir, id-dibattitu dwar l-abort issa infetaħ u ma tantx hemm ċans li jingħalaq malajr.

Bla dubju jkollna opportunita li nitkellmu iktar fit-tul.

Fuq dan il-blog tista’ tara ukoll is-segwenti, dwar l-abort:

Malta: exporting abortion | Blog ta’ Carmel Cacopardo (wordpress.com)

The abortion debate | Blog ta’ Carmel Cacopardo (wordpress.com)

Ethical pluralism: the next steps | Blog ta’ Carmel Cacopardo (wordpress.com)

An invitation: keep the doors open | Blog ta’ Carmel Cacopardo (wordpress.com)

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

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

The abortion debate

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