Yet another day at the WHO regional conference where safe abortion is no controversy at all.
It would be amusing if it wasn't so utterly pathetic.
Recently the Labour Party's newspaper Kullhadd took a pot-shot at Lawrence Gonzi for 'endorsing' a World Health Organisation policy document calling for "access to safe abortion" (among around a million other things).
Effectively it was a direct retaliation over the PN's earlier criticism of Labour MEPs Edward Scicluna and Louis Grech - whose support for the EU's Millennium Development Goals had similarly been 'outed' over a single, isolated abortion reference.
Well, it seems the Labour Party has finally sniffed out an opportunity to level the score: digging up an almost identical abortion reference, only this time in an international policy document approved by the Nationalist administration.
So far, so good... until you take into consideration the sheer enormity of the contradiction.
Take, for instance, the government's official response to the Kullhadd story. It was presented as a "denial" - yet on closer inspection it doesn't actually deny the government;s endorsement of the WHO report at all. Instead, Health Minister Joe Cassar merely reiterated his government's "strong opposition" to abortion, while accusing the Labour Party of distorting facts: "KullHadd has taken one paragraph of 571 totally out of context, and quoted the prime minister out of context. No part of the WHO document demands that a country introduces abortion, and the reference only applies to those countries which have abortion, so this does not apply to our country."
Leaving aside the rather obvious 'straw man' fallacy in that argument (Labour never suggested the report tried forcing Malta to legalise abortion): is it possible that Cassar did not realise that he was effectively making an archetypal pro-choice argument?
"The reference," he said, "does not count for Malta, but for countries which offer abortion so that this is offered safely and reduce deaths from dangerous interventions."
Oh, excellent. So in other words, Joe Cassar is acknowledging that access to safe abortions is preferable to no abortion at all, because... well, the alternative is 'unsafe abortion', and that clearly benefits nobody.
Personally I have often remarked how people who call themselves 'pro-life' can so blithely acknowledge that the health and safety of the mother should be given top priority in such matters... so long as it doesn't happen here.
But let's leave that for another time. What I find truly incredible about Cassar's retort is that it is not only similar, but IDENTICAL to that of Scicluna and Grech when facing similar accusations. If we were talking about a comic book here - and let's face it, it does feel like that sometimes - you could almost switch the speech bubbles between the two frames featuring Joe Cassar and Scicluna & Grech... and it would make no difference whatsoever.
And this points towards an uncomfortable reality many of us have long identified, though it still seems to occasionally need spelling out. Maltese politicians lead a double life when it comes to abortion. They talk and act one way when in front of a purely local audience, while delivering a completely different performance for when on the European stage.
Ask anyone directly involved with EU stuff in Brussels - the MEPs, the Commission, the various embassies, etc - and they will all tell you that Malta's position on abortion is a rather transparent façade. I know of individual cases (and I won't mention names) when Maltese officials have taken their foreign counterparts aside, and told them (words to the effect of): "Look, this whole abortion business is embarrassing for us, you know. We are under enormous pressure domestically to appear tough on the issue; but of course we can't allow that to interfere with things like the Millennium Development Goals or the WGO's health policies, etc. So if you don't mind, we will continue playing the part of the 'pro-life moral crusaders' exclusively for the boys back home... while all along tacitly approving the occasional abortion reference here and there..."
What does all this ultimately mean? Well, one thing it means is that the 'pro-life' stance superficially embraced by all local political parties is itself a mantle that can be simply ditched no sooner does it suit any given political purpose.
On those occasions when it pays our politicians to appear moderate - such as, when a Maltese Commissioner-designate is being interviewed for the post by a fiercely feminist MEP - suddenly, our tolerance for abortion sky-rockets until the practice becomes almost acceptable to us... so long, of course, as all the foetuses being aborted are African, Asian, or any nationality other than Maltese.
It seems, then, that our national abortion hypocrisy has finally blown up in our faces. There was always going to be a natural limit to how loudly an EU member state can oppose abortion, when the EU itself funds abortions all over Africa and beyond (and Malta, like all other member states, contributes to those funds with its own tax money).
How, therefore, can the Maltese government justify 'vetoing' a World Health Organisation policy document... which only recommends doing that which we already do anyway (i.e, make abortion safer in countries where it is unsafe)?
It's the sort of hypocrisy is too conspicuous to last long. The EU knows this, which is why it rolls its eyes and twiddles its thumbs each time Malta makes loud protestations of its pro-life views. Maltese politicians know it too. That's why they always choose their venue carefully when making such statements: shouting themselves hoarse when defending the rights of the unborn before a purely local audience... but then quietly, sneakily supporting pro-abortion initiatives when sitting with their European counterparts in Brussels.
In fact... everyone knows it. So for all you Maltese politicians who still think the entire 'female reproductive rights issue' exists only so that you can score the occasional cheap political point here and there: well, think again.
You're not fooling anyone anymore... and it shows.