Bill 28 is not just about Andrea Prudente

… but the bill itself is still aimed at addressing a legal anomaly that we all know exists, anyway; and which may conceivably affect ANY pregnant woman, at any time in the future.

In 1958, philosopher Bertrand Russell famously wrote: “nobody can prove that there is not, between the Earth and Mars, a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit; but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice.”

The analogy has gone down in history as ‘Russell’s teapot’; and it was originally part of a much broader argument regarding the existence, or otherwise, of God… though it could just as easily be applied to, say, the ‘Loch Ness Monster’; or ‘Bigfoot’; or ‘Intelligent Life on Malta (I mean, Mars!)’… or anything, really, whose existence happens to be in dispute.

But back to the tea-pot itself. On the surface, Russell’s argument is that it is simply impossible to ever prove – with 100% percent certainty – the non-existence of anything: no matter how unlikely, or implausible, that ‘anything’ might be.

But there is an important caveat: Russell also argues that one’s inability to ever disprove the existence of a ‘china tea-pot, revolving in an elliptical orbit around the Sun’, cannot ever be used as a justification of one’s belief in the existence of said tea-pot, to begin with. (In his own words: “if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.”)

And this is significant, because it implies two things. One, that questions of belief should not hinge merely on possibilities… but should also take statistical probabilities into account. And two, that the realm of possibility is, in itself, somewhat ‘relative’ in nature: in the sense that, what may have appeared utterly impossible to Bertrand Russell, back in 1958 – a ‘tea-pot in space’, no less: at a time when space travel itself was still in its early infancy – must today be considered at least a vaguely possible (though not exactly plausible) scenario.

Think about it for a second: NASA has been sending unmanned missions to Mars (and beyond) since the early 1970s, at least. How ‘impossible’ would it really be, then, for a disgruntled (or even, just bored) employee to have once actually smuggled a ‘china teapot’ onto one of those 50+ spacecraft, over the past five decades… and then programmed things, so as to blast it off into orbit at a point exactly half-way between Earth and Mars? (You know: just to get a kick out of proving Bertrand Russel’s ‘unprovable’ assertion, once and for all?)

Heck, I’d certainly do it, if I had a job loading stuff onto NASA rockets (as well as a spare teapot I wanted to get rid of)…  but I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes: statistical probabilities.

So, just to conclude this interplanetary parenthesis about ‘Russell’s teapot’: the fact that it is now technologically possible – in theory, at least – for such an eventuality to materialise, does not change the core dynamic of Russell’s analogy in the slightest.

Because the same caveat still remains in place: it’s not the possibility alone that counts, but also the probability. (And let’s face it: by any stretch of the imagination, it is highly – but HIGHLY – improbable that there really is a goddamn ‘china tea-pot’, just floating around in space somewhere …

Still: by now, you might well be wondering what any of this has to do with Bill 28 – that’s the amendment to decriminalise potentially life-saving abortions, by the way – and, even more so, with Andrea Prudente: the woman who was denied the same treatment in Malta, after having suffered from “preterm premature rupture of membranes” (PPROM) 15 weeks into her pregnancy.

And I can’t really blame you, either; because – from the very outset – part of what has undermined this whole ‘abortion discussion’, is precisely the fact that most people seem incapable of separating those two issues, in the first place.

They seem to think that Bill 28 is somehow inextricably linked with the Andrea Prudente case: to the extent that some now even argue that there is no need to change the law at all… because – according to recent testimony by Mater Dei health officials – neither Prudente’s own life, nor even (possibly) that of her unborn child, was ever necessarily ‘in danger’.

And, well, both those arguments happen to be right up there with Russell’s imaginary tea-pot… if nothing else, because they occupy a space that simply doesn’t exist at all, within the context of a discussion about Bill 28.

OK, let’s start with the more overtly ‘teapot-like’ of those two claims: I.e., that there may actually have been a chance of saving Andrea prudente’s unborn child, after all. This can be traced directly to the following claims on the witness stand:

a) “Developments in the field over the past two decades or so meant that today there was a 79.2% survival rate of the unborn baby when the mother’s waters ruptured before 20 weeks pregnancy”; and

b) “If she remained in hospital there was a chance, not a big one, that the baby would have survived.”

Now: at the risk of re-starting this article, all over again: there is also ‘a chance’ – not a very big one – that Russell’s teapot may actually exist, after all; and therefore, what matters more is the statistical probability.

Applied to this scenario: that translates directly into a question of how ‘big’ that chance actually was.

Was it really as high as 79.2%, for instance? Well… not according to the same witnesses themselves, it seems (let’s face it: you wouldn’t exactly describe a survival chance of almost 80%, as ‘not very big’: would you now?)

And not according to Doctors For Choice, either: who fished out the original study upon which that claim was based, and discovered that: the ‘79.2%’ actually refers to cases “when the mother’s waters ruptured before 20 weeks pregnancy”; and that the same study also found that “all fetuses or neonates from pregnancies that suffered PPROM earlier than 19 weeks, DIED BEFORE DISCHARGE.” [my emphasis]

Effectively, that sets the survival rate of unborn children – whose mothers are unfortunate enough to suffer ruptured membranes before 19 weeks of pregnancy – at pretty much exactly ‘ZERO’. (And as I mentioned just a few lines further up: Andrea Prudente’s actually suffered her PPROM at just 15 weeks…)

Naturally, I’ll leave it to you to calculate the foetus’s precise survival chances, in that scenario (but I think we can all safely agree that the answer’s going to be a whole lot less than ‘79.2%’…)  All the same, however: that only brings me to the other reason why it’s actually all quite irrelevant, at the end of the day.

It’s a strange thing to have to even point out, at this late stage: but government is not proposing to amend Malta’s abortion law, simply for the benefit of Andrea Prudente herself.

Leaving aside that… well, it’s a little late for that now, don’t you think?... the fact remains that Andrea Prudente was but one of several cases of PPROM (among other potentially life-threatening complications) to have sporadically surfaced in Malta, over the years; and in ALL such cases, there is simply no legal provision, of any kind whatsoever, to either safeguard the life of the mother, or protect the medical profession… even in cases where abortion becomes necessary for purely medical reasons.

Now: having said that, I am not quite naïve enough to believe that the timing of this proposal had ‘nothing to do with Andrea Prudente’, either. No, it’s fairly obvious that the government IS, in fact, responding to pressures associated with that one, specific incident (in particular, from the international press)…

… but the bill itself is still aimed at addressing a legal anomaly that we all know exists, anyway; and which may conceivably affect ANY pregnant woman, at any time in the future.

To quote ‘Doctors For Choice’ once more: “In practice, this means doctors cannot actively terminate a non-viable or barely viable pregnancy unless the woman is at the point of dying, and can only watch and wait until nature takes its course. The woman is observed for signs of deterioration and is given antibiotics if needed, but the woman and her doctor cannot elect to terminate such dangerous pregnancies until the last minute under the current law, by which time it may be too late.”

This remains the situation, regardless what happened (or might have happened) in Andrea Prudente’s case. Which also means that, even if the most nefarious (and bizarre) conspiracy theories about her actually turn out to be true: and she really WAS some kind of ‘pro-choice secret-agent’, who ‘infiltrated Malta’ with the intention to somehow force us to change our national legislation (etc., etc.)…

… it still wouldn’t change the core dynamics of Bill 28, one tiny bit. Other women will still remain just as vulnerable to the same sort of medical malpractice, as they are today; and there would still be no legal protection – for either women, or doctors – in all those other cases that we all know (once again, on the basis of ‘statistical probabilities’) will definitely, 100%, keep recurring in future.

And this – to quote the same NGO for the final time – “is why Bill 28 needs to pass: to allow women with serious complications to prioritise their health and lives and allow their doctors to terminate their pregnancy.” (Honestly, though: it really isn’t THAT difficult to understand, is it?).