Abortion and choice: a personal view

Each of us can hold a pro-choice position but be personally anti-abortion for themselves

Abortion activists hold a protest in the wake of a story of an American woman who was refused an abortion even though her fetus has a zero chance of survival (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Abortion activists hold a protest in the wake of a story of an American woman who was refused an abortion even though her fetus has a zero chance of survival (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

I was born in Malta and raised Catholic like the vast majority of my peers. I went to a Church school where I was taught that abortion is a sin, and that when you belong to this club abstinence is the only acceptable form of birth control.

Now I know better. I have seen the difficulties faced by my patients and I have listened to their stories. I know that sometimes abortion is the result of an unintended pregnancy. Other times, it is a necessary procedure to terminate a very much wanted pregnancy.

I also know that abortion has not always been considered a sin by the Catholic Church. In fact, it was only in 1588 that Pope Sixtus V declared that life began at conception. For the next three years, women who had abortions were excommunicated. However, this decision was not easy to implement, as well as being out of step with the social mores of the day. The next Pope changed his mind and abortions were once again allowed.  It took another 281 years (1869) for Pope Pius IX to reverse the reversal and proclaim that ensouled life began at conception. So, contrary to what you and I were brought up to believe, the Catholic Church has only considered abortion to be a sin for some 150 years.

Each of us can hold a pro-choice position but be personally anti-abortion for themselves. That was my position before I became a Doctor for Choice. However, I now feel that if the circumstances dictated that I needed an abortion, I would have one myself, not that it is even biologically possible to be pregnant at my age. Why? Because I have heard so many distressing personal stories over the past few years, that I have learned to empathise with the difficult decisions women may face. What would I do if I were to receive a heartbreaking medical diagnosis at 20 weeks of pregnancy? What would I do if I were told that my much-wanted pregnancy was doomed, and that the child, when born, would live only a few hours and die a painful death? Or what if I were pregnant from an abusive partner and already had two young children? It seems to me that there is always more to learn as we move through life. This is why we should seek out different perspectives on various topics and, if necessary, change our minds. Very much like the Catholic Church did over the centuries.

I believe that abortion should be available as necessary without stigma and without making women feel guilty for accessing an essential healthcare service. I now know that women choose to have abortions because they value their own lives and their own future above those of their embryo. Surely each of us is capable of deciding what is best for us? If I do not want to have a blood transfusion or a hysterectomy, no-one can force this on me. Then why must I be forced into having a child if I decide to live my life according to my conscience?

I feel very strongly that if Maltese society truly respects the equality of women and if it believes in personal liberty and the right to freedom of conscience, then that freedom should also extend to childbirth and one’s body. It follows then that the choice of whether or not to have an abortion must be that of the woman alone.

To my mind, denying the option of an abortion to a woman in Birkirkara, but not in Brussels, Berlin, or Bordeaux, is against human rights. I believe that abortion is sometimes necessary to save lives and that sometimes it is an act of compassion to end suffering. I think about the lives of women and girls, those who are poor, abused, downtrodden or marginalised. I know that abortion care is healthcare and that is why I am a Doctor for Choice.

Women in Malta should have choices. They should have the choice to select the birth control method that suits them best and have it available for free on the essential medicines list. They should be able to reach out 24/7 for emergency contraception and not be turned away by a conscientiously objecting pharmacist.

Their children should have access to comprehensive sexual education in school. I believe that women who are pregnant should be trusted to make the best decisions for their lives. They should be provided with the best standards of healthcare including access to abortion.

Last year, at least 365 people in Malta received medical abortion pills in the post. Next year, it could be you or someone you love.  We now know that the majority of Maltese people do not want their sisters, mothers, daughters, wives or friends to risk prosecution and jail time for having an abortion. The blanket ban on abortion with criminal sanctions on women and their doctors should be something of the past.

I urge you to read the poignant stories in Dear Decision Makers; talk to friends and family about what you read, move out of your echo-chamber, and you may well find yourself with a new perspective on the topic. You may not, but you could try. It is time for our decision makers to open their eyes, their minds and their hearts. It is time for humanity, compassion, and empathy. Abortion is a necessary choice.