Don't mention the a-word

If I had a vote in Ireland I would have voted for the ban on abortion to be repealed from the Constitution. And I would give my reasons why

To compare Malta with Ireland is not entirely correct. But there are many similarities. We both have two official languages, one of them English, we both have a rich Roman Catholic tradition, few unique natural resources and at one point, served as useful appendages in the British Empire.

More significantly, many Irish and Maltese were forced to emigrate to the US and Australia to seek greener pastures. Decades later both countries are prosperous and heavily dependent on their financial services and unique tax regimes as EU member states.

Until yesterday we also were the only two countries in Europe who banned abortion. However, yesterday an overwhelming majority voted to repeal a former decision taken in 1983 that entrenched the abortion ban in the Irish constitution. Thirty years later the inevitable happened.

In Malta all political parties are firmly against abortion, including the Democratic Party, now looking very much like a pale shadow of the PN. Even the Maltese Greens stand against abortion though I recall from 30 years ago when I was actively involved in Alternattiva Demokratika that privately we were not against campaigning for abortion; but we chose not to do so because we were petrified of the backlash. Today many of the former Greens, even those who were for abortion, have changed tack because they know it would be curtains for their political career.

Today the Nationalist Party accuse Muscat of harbouring ideas to introduce abortion hot on the heels of the embryo freezing amendments, but anyone who knows Muscat will attest that he is firmly against the legalisation of abortion. And for some who make so many electoral calculations, there does not seem to be any appetite in the electorate to introduce abortion. And Muscat is not one for taking any chances that will dent his electoral supremacy.

This differs from his position on gay rights, which takes Malta to the top charts when it comes to other countries. But when it comes to abortion, every MP treads with caution as those that have voiced their opinion in favour of abortion know that they will need to face the music sooner or later.

The same can be said about any abortion debate itself. I can speak for myself and state that if I had a vote in Ireland I would have voted for the ban on abortion to be repealed from the Constitution. And I could give my reasons why.

But here in Malta that statement alone is treated as some sort of national treason, a declaration from Satan himself, a sin in itself.

Now, if we were to enter an intelligent debate – which is obviously very difficult in the circumstances – I would start by saying that I am personally against abortion, but not against the introduction of abortion in the legal sense and only in certain circumstances. 

No one in his right senses can be an enthusiast for abortion or euthanasia for the matter. Both are medical interventions that aim to terminate life. And there is no debate that the intervention ends life even if the foetus is not fully developed.

But the question to ask is, why should abortion be legalised in the first place? 

The arguments are debatable but this is what the pro-choice campaign will argue. The first argument is that abortion is about allowing women the right to make choices, to have full control over their bodies, to decide about when they want to have children in relation to so many factors that inform such a decision, and that it is not the government’s role to legislate against women’s choices.

The second point is that raising a child is not an easy task and requires social and emotional commitment backed by financial resources. If a person feels not ready for a child, it means that the pregnancy is unwanted and allowing a foetus to grow into a child is worse than abortion since the resultant child will grow in a non-conducive and destructive environment without the love, care and stability that a child needs. Abortion prevents unwanted and unplanned pregnancies which in turn prevent child neglect since the mother does not want to have children at that moment in time.

Those who are for abortion argue that those against employ a moral argument that is only a personal interpretation. They say a foetus is not legally or scientifically a person or human being so abortion cannot be equated to murder or taking a life since the foetus is neither a person nor alive. And they believe that prohibiting abortions will not stop abortion since women would simply seek abortions through illegal means which are unsafe, so it is better to provide women with safe and legal ways to carry out an abortion.

Indeed, this is the unfairness of making abortion illegal – the decision involves a class struggle since those who are rich and have the money can always go to Italy and the UK where it is legal to carry out an abortion whilst those who cannot afford, have to resort to unsafe abortions or simply accept their new reality.

Having heard these arguments I would hope that a modern society will accept the fact that birth control methods should be the norm with most. But there is a reality we have to face: many consenting partners have unprotected sex. And believe me, it starts from a very early age in Malta.

Beyond the fear of speaking one’s mind, it is high time that we have a discussion and start realising that there is a real underbelly of desperation out there that cannot be forgotten. Today’s political leaders will ignore this reality and pass the buck to the next generation. But I do not see any promising political realists and few activists ready to get their hands dirty. At least for now.

Which is why the media should play a much larger role in this much-needed debate.