Stop taking people for a ride | Alexia DeBono

Both parties had the chance in the past to make right on their shortcomings and prevent us from the hellscape of the abortion debate that we are in today. Instead, they are choosing to reaffirm the political status quo of trying, but not fully managing, to 'have your cake and eat it too'

Like many following the current debate of the abortion amendment bill, I find myself overwhelmed with frustration and anger at the way that the political class and certain community leaders are using this event to pedal disinformation, duplicitousness, and tribalist thinking to make a mark on this long-avoided subject and maintain relevance or the support of their followers.

So much so, that many people on either side of the debate are not fully aware of what the actual law is stating, so the whole point of this hellish back-and-forth is lost in this tidal wave of clap-backs and hyper-aggression. But it’s time that some points are set straight, and that the key players in this debate are held accountable for the actions that have led us into this mess in the first place.

The Labour Party has a history of presenting itself as a beacon of progressivism but has once again brought itself into a recurring battle of bad implementation of their recent significant policies – for example, last year’s cannabis legislation. It is the elephant in the room that has made itself known in the arguments of this recent debate and is being manipulated by those that seek to discredit the actual meaning of the bill and who this bill is for – including Parliament members themselves.

The fact that prominent members of Parliament are promoting it as a termination of pregnancy (which, by the way, literally means abortion), but saying that it isn’t actually abortion… Well, that doesn’t sit well with a number of people, and in fact undermines that for which they are actually advocating.

To be clear – having read the actual wording of the bill as well as possible tweaks that might be implemented, this bill is 100% not going to introduce an “abortion free-for-all”, “abortion by stealth”, or any of the other nonsense that anti-choicers are saying. The fact that the Labour Party is choosing to keep the draconian law as is and are literally only adding this amendment as an exemption of this law only proves that the party is not yet ready to tackle decriminalisation of abortion any time soon; let alone legalising it!

The bill isn’t great, but it should still pass. Any attempts to water it down will only provide more barriers and will increase the likelihood of what happened to Marion Mifsud Mora and Andrea Prudente to happen again. And not everyone can rely on outside insurance to save them.

But the main point mentioned earlier remains – the way the Government is both advocating for yet undermining their very cause of implementing this bill is adding fuel to the fire of critics’ campaigns and displaying a lack of conviction on their part.

The more they try to appease everyone (especially on something as significant as safeguarding medical professionals from persecution over a procedure that can save pregnant people from the very real risk of death), what they are actually expressing is that they value the loudest voices over the voices that actually matter – those that have been and will continue to be affected by the law as it stands.

And it’s not like those who have already been affected haven’t been trying to be loud – there have been a number of informational and awareness campaigns such as Dear Decision Makers, Break The Taboo Malta, and numerous others from other pro-choice organisations; highlighting the very real and lasting trauma that pregnant people have gone through because of the inaction on the state’s part, for a number of years.

Never mind the fact that pro-choice voices are demonised, harassed, and threatened, with little to no repercussions by authorities and community leaders. Never mind the fact that the ongoing stigma prevents many from being able to speak out in the first place.

The fact that this bill is even happening because Andrea Prudente made international headlines already speaks volumes as to what this government will actually respond to. But whilst it’s true that views can change when one actually makes the effort to listen, taking action with this bill is commendable, and that this is an important step for the fight for bodily autonomy and full sexual and reproductive rights for any person who can get pregnant; you can’t do all of this genuinely, whilst also trying to maintain strong anti-choice support.

So say it for what it is - “Abortion, but only in certain circumstances”; “Abortion, but only in cases where the pregnant person’s life and health is at serious risk”; or even better, “Abortion, yes, but only because Malta was all over international headlines for a very embarrassing reason, over a law that we had no intention of changing. Never mind that we could have avoided all of this had we taken Marlene Farrugia’s decriminalisation of abortion bill seriously last year – but we are doing the right thing now, and that’s what counts, right? Even though we’re only partially amending the law in order to save our behinds from more international scrutiny and liability.”

Does this confession help you look like a party that actually cares about reproductive rights? No. But it never hurts to admit that you made a mistake and are trying to redeem yourself. It shows growth and integrity!

At least, a lot more than the Opposition ever will, at this rate.

Speaking of the Opposition – plunging themselves further into the conservative right has been made the clearest it has ever been and removes them entirely from being seen as a party that is rational, significant, tolerable, liberal, or progressive.

Their recent actions, which include using their seats in Parliament to insult a woman who has been through a traumatic event (with no remorse); using their platforms to intimidate pro-choice activists that ask for accountability over previous duplicitousness to the community; and aligning themselves with other extremists groups further alienates themselves from any rational person who may still want to give them a chance. It is disappointing, but at this point, not surprising in the least.

So much so, that I sincerely worry about the intentions of the pro-choice voices within this party. They have been left little choice but to play along to protect their political career or stay silent because it’s safer for them to (even when it goes against their very beliefs), distance themselves whilst maintaining some connection (for what reasons, I will never know or understand), or quit the party altogether. But for the most part, they seem to stay and bear it or lie through their teeth – keeping themselves trapped in a party culture that will never fully embrace them.

Both parties had the chance in the past to make right on their shortcomings and prevent us from the hellscape of the abortion debate that we are in today. Instead, they are choosing to reaffirm the political status quo of trying, but not fully managing, to “have your cake and eat it too.”

We need community leaders and politicians to lead by example. They are not to be put on pedestals, but rather reminded of their duties as civil servants and held accountable when their words and actions disinform, misinform, manipulate, and actively cause harm to their people.

This can be applied to several issues besides the current abortion debate, but one thing is clear – the people deserve better, and the government owes both present and future generations with policies and actions that ensure their overall wellbeing. Even when it means going against the grain and thinking outside the boxes we have placed on ourselves and others.

But if you can’t do that, it’s okay – the next generation of changemakers will show you how it’s done.

Alexia DeBono is co-president Volt Malta