A debate becomes a debacle

Before we rush into hurried decisions, I believe the process of passing the law should be temporarily stopped after the second reading is approved. Then let’s have some time for a serious and honest debate.

What should have been a civilised debate on whether Malta needs to change its laws on abortion has turned into a veritable debacle.

Abortion is not a clear-cut issue as can be seen from what happened in the US when the Supreme Court overturned the famous Roe vs Wade decision. It was in 1970 that, Jane Roe (a fictional name used in court documents to protect the plaintiff’s identity) filed a lawsuit against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, where she resided, challenging a Texas law making abortion illegal except by a doctor’s orders to save a woman’s life. It was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States conferred the right to have an abortion. The overturning of this decision has now led to confusion across the different states of the USA.

The new law being proposed by government is meant to clear the issue in Malta once and for all. But in the great tradition of Maltese democracy, the issue has become as garbled as it can be.

While the Deputy Prime Minister insists that the proposed law is not meant to introduce abortion in Malta, the same NGOs that are in favour of abortion say that this law is a good beginning. So those who support the law give the lie to the Deputy Prime Minister on the justification of the law!

Add a few conspiracy theories and we now have the perfect storm.

According to former MP Jason Azzopardi, the story of the American couple who needed to get an abortion for health reasons and had to go to Spain to do it, was – in fact – a put-up job. Jason was promptly sued for libel. There is no doubt that pro-abortion NGOs have been using this couple to press their point home.

The couple are now suing the Maltese state, with the State Advocate (that is, government) claiming that the woman’s life was never threatened! According to this scenario, in a few days’ time the foetal heartbeat would have disappeared and the clearing of the wife’s uterus would have followed as night follows day. The fuss, therefore, was for nothing. Try explaining this to the international press and the reaction would be obvious: Malta is a silly country following silly rules.

But this is the story that has reportedly sparked the Health Minister to change the law! Was this just an excuse or a real problem?

The story has become also a piece of political intrigue according to those who ‘know’ that our Deputy PM and Health Minister, Chris Fearne, would earn a lot of kudos for introducing this law when he is nominated to be the Maltese EU Commissioner to follow Helena Dalli in Brussels when her term is over.

How come that as far as is known, no women have died in Malta because she could not have an abortion that was necessary for her life to be saved? This is the argument mostly used by those who oppose abortion at all costs in any circumstances. But, in many cases, the threat to the women’s health is all too real. So there is an argument that favours abortion in certain circumstances. The law however is drafted in such a way that it allows abortion of perfectly healthy babies because of the physical and/or mental state of the mother.

The Catholic rulebook that Malta has consistently followed for more than a century ignores the issue of the mother’s health and only when the mother is in real danger of death that the double-effect rule is resorted to. The principle of double effect means that sometimes one must perform an action that is in itself morally good but may also have an unintended ill-effect for which the person is not morally culpable. Saving one person is better than allowing both to die through inaction, even though it means the death of one. In this reasoning, the issue of the life of the mother is explicit. Two very grave matters must be weighed against each other.

But the word ‘health’ lacks a hard definition, and people freely apply it not only to matters of grave physical health but also to mental health, economic health, and even social health.

And this is where the proposed amendment opens up a new door. It the Government feels that it should go down that way, it should have the courage to say so. Claiming that it is not so when everybody thinks it is, can only be described as fraud.

I am not generally pro-choice but I can think of several instances when the abortion of a foetus is indicated. For example, I believe it is cruel to force pregnant women to keep carrying an unviable foetus for the whole pregnancy, only to lose this ‘baby’ a few days or weeks after it is born. Unfortunately this happens under the law as it is.

But the law as is proposed is not interested in the viability or otherwise of the foetus but only in the health – both physical and mental - of the mother.

This continues to reveal the real effect of the proposed law because it gives priority to the mother irrespective of the health and viability of the foetus. Before we rush into hurried decisions, I believe the process of passing the law should be temporarily stopped after the second reading is approved. Then let’s have some time for a serious and honest debate.

And let’s call a spade a spade.

Climate crisis comes home

For many Europeans it is only this year that the effects of climate change have brought the climate crisis home. Researchers behind a new study showing the fire season reached record ‘burned area’ in some regions of south-west Europe, say that what happened may be just a preview of the new normal.

The continent also likely suffered the worst drought in 500 years this summer, followed by dangerous flash flooding in places. And more data is pouring in on the deadly toll of this extreme weather. French authorities, for example, have just estimated that the year’s heatwaves caused an excess 2,816 deaths.

As well as the danger to life, people are increasingly concerned for their homes.

Given the potential impact on the insurance industry, UK comparison site ‘Compare the Market.com’ has drawn up a list of the 10 European countries where houses are most vulnerable.

Is climate change ‘an act of God’?