Even professionals won’t talk about abortion

My question was simple and non-controversial: Do Maltese patients ever seek their advice on abortion? 

After making contact with gynaecologists who vehemently refuse to speak on record about abortion, it became abundantly clear that this group of professionals has a very interesting perspective to offer.

My question was simple and non-controversial: Do Maltese patients ever seek their advice on abortion? The answers were strictly off-record, that is, unless what they have to say is in line with the apparent national consensus that abortion is unacceptable under all circumstances.

But within this group of professionals, the consensus seems to be that Maltese women do indeed seek abortions, and they do ask their gynaes for advice, and almost always – if not always – due to serious health concerns.

Doubtlessly there are also women who seek what is colloquially referred to as “abortions of convenience.” But these are women who would probably not consult their gynaecologists prior to booking their flights to countries like Italy, Belgium, or the UK, anyway.

But when faced with the difficult situation of being asked by their patients whether they should consider abortion in cases of severe issues, one professional said that – as difficult as it may be – they could not bring themselves to tell the woman to carry the unborn to term.

These women will have the most horrendous of births. And that is real trauma

“It would be far more cruel, and it would weigh on my conscience, than to suggest to the woman to undergo an abortion. It shouldn’t matter what the majority thinks, and whether the prime minister thinks this issue warrants a discussion or not,” one said. “I believe that if there is one Maltese citizen with a serious medical condition, carrying a baby which will clearly not live, something needs to be done.”

“These women will have the most horrendous of births,” another said. “And that is real trauma.”

While surveys carried out by this newspaper quantitatively suggest that abortion, so reviled by the Maltese nation, is a non-issue for the political class, last week’s proposals by the Women’s Rights Foundation have certainly pushed reproductive rights into new territory ripe for debate.

For ignoring the reality of Maltese women seeking abortion also underlines the inherent classism of those who can accept that women should buy an air ticket and go abroad if they need. What is essentially being said is that abortions should be reserved only for those who can afford them – not to mention the fact that the procedure itself is criminalised. The idea that access to abortions through the public health system is not necessary since Maltese women can get them abroad is fundamentally, morally, and factually flawed.

More sensitive professionals who often guide women through difficult pregnancies are capable of showcasing a side to the abortion debate which is usually swept under the rug. They ought to be listened to, if only they were allowed to speak up without facing serious professional consequences.

As Nationalist MP Claudette Buttigieg diplomatically said in Parliament last week, the country cannot simply turn a blind eye to the women who seek abortions abroad. “We need to help these women, and provide them with alternatives,” she said. “We cannot demonise those whom we don’t agree with.”

But gynaecologists I spoke to understand that the pro-abortion label in Malta is no light burden. Like politicians who steer clear from the controversy, gynaecologists say the issue could detract other much needed ‘political’ gains: “You don’t need any talk on abortion when you’re planning to revise the IVF law and talk about embryo freezing."

 

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