If politicians won’t discuss policy issues… why do they even exist?

There is, after all, no point in choosing between different parties or candidates, if they’re all equally hellbent on keeping everything exactly as it is

OK, so let me get this straight: after 30 years of active involvement in Alternattiva Demokratika, co-founder and former chairman Prof. Arnold Cassola decided to abruptly resign from that party – just like that, from one day to the next, three months before a European election in which he was AD’s star candidate - because one of its junior members had dared to call for… “a respectful national discussion on abortion”?

Hate to ask the obvious question, but: as opposed to what, exactly? A “disrespectful discussion on abortion”? (If so: well, we hardly need Arnold Cassola for that, do we? It’s happening anyway…). Or wait, let me guess: no discussion at all, huh?  Ah yes, the usual political cop-out we have come to expect, when debating serious issues in this country.

Everything just remains as is, for all eternity: in this case, with an abortion law that hasn’t even been updated once since the mid-19th century when it was drawn up… even though the entire social, political and even medical context has changed beyond recognition in the past decade alone.

Sorry, but if this isn’t a ‘WTF’ moment in Maltese political history, I don’t know what is. What are we even supposed to make of it all, anyway? That Arnold Cassola is so swept up by the tidal wave of emotive fury that always accompanies the word ‘abortion’ here… that he can’t bear the idea of his own party even discussing the issue at all? And if so… what the heck has he even been doing in politics all this time?

To be honest, it would be surreal even if there wasn’t an urgent need for this debate to begin with. Think about it for a second: if the objective here is for everything to remain exactly as it is… why, we wouldn’t even need the two larger parties, let alone AD or PD.

All we’d need is for everyone to simply agree on the basic structure that we all want to keep in place… in this case, ‘no abortion in any circumstance, with no exceptions of any kind whatsoever’… and, Bob’s your uncle!

All parties agree, no party promises to bring about any form of change…  and there, in a nutshell, is the glorious image of Democracy being flushed down the toilet, never to resurface in our collective lifetimes.  

There is, after all, no point in choosing between different parties or candidates, if they’re all equally hellbent on keeping everything exactly as it is.

Ah, but this is the part about the whole ‘abortion debate’ business that local politicians just never seem to understand at all. We are no longer living in an age of automatic universal consensus: on this, or any other subject.

For while it is probably true that the very concept of a ‘pro-choice Maltese individual’ was completely alien until only very recently… that spaceship has now well and truly landed.  

21st century Malta is also characterized by (admittedly very small) pockets of people who do not accept the majority viewpoint, simply because it exists; people who question why things are the way they are, and – more pointedly - whether they should remain that way forever.

And while this may come as a huge, earthshattering surprise to a great many Maltese politicians… these people do actually expect issues such as abortion to be properly debated in this country; and some of them also expect occasional legislative changes from time to time.

Because they understand (if Cassola does not) that the status quo regarding abortion in particular – and a whole bunch of other issues too – is very, very far from acceptable. And to cap it all: these people, in the main, look to non-mainstream parties like AD – a Green Party, for crying out loud – to occasionally speak up on their behalf.

They certainly do not expect to look from the ultra-conversative right, to the supposedly progressive left, and not see any difference at all.
But that’s just a general overview. There is also a very specific context to this particular story. Mina Tolu’s call for “a respectful national discussion on abortion” was itself prompted by news that a British charity, providing free abortions, was planning to extend its services to Malta.

This implies that, a) there is already a demand for that service locally (though we knew this anyway, from our annual ‘abortion tourism’ statistics), and; b), a ‘discussion on abortion’ is happening anyway, whether politicians like Cassola choose to get themselves involved or not.

It’s been ongoing for some time now, too. Several months ago, the Woman’s Rights Foundation published a detailed proposal on how the law could be amended, by allowing for abortion in three specific instances… and – because when things get surreal here, they really do tend to go overboard - Arnold Cassola seems to agree with at least one of those three exceptions himself.

OK, let’s rewind a little. This is what Cassola said when announcing his resignation: “I am completely against abortion except in cases when the health and life of the mother are in danger”.

This, on the other hand, is what Maltese law actually states on the same subject: “Whosoever, by any food, drink, medicine, or by violence, or by any other means whatsoever, shall cause the miscarriage of any woman with child, whether the woman be consenting or not, shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term from 18 months to three years”; and “The same punishment shall be awarded against any woman who shall procure her own miscarriage, or who shall have consented to the use of the means by which the miscarriage is procured.”

And… yes, folks. That is indeed the full extent of Malta’s entire legislation on the subject of abortion (in other words, the law that politicians like Arnold Cassola see no reason to even discuss, still less amend in any way). As you can see, there is not the ghost of a reference to abortion being legally permissible in “in cases when the health and life of the mother are in danger”.

So… would Cassola object even to a discussion about amending the law to cover such cases? They do happen in Malta, you know; and just because, under the present circumstances, Maltese doctors seem to enjoy a certain discretionary ‘indemnity’ in such matters… there is no guarantee that the law will continue to be interpreted that way forever.

All it would take is one religious fanatic to achieve real power in this country – and there isn’t exactly shortage of possible contenders, is there? - and future Maltese doctors might find themselves facing possible prison sentences, for the grave crime having carried out emergency surgery to save a woman’s life.

It’s unlikely, I concede… if nothing else, because even the Catholic Church recognises the necessity (and caters for it, too, by means of its celebrated ‘Thomist principle’); but I, for one, wouldn’t want to take any chances. So yes, we do need to discuss changes to Malta’s abortion laws. And to hear the former leader of Malta’s only Green Party arguing that… um, no, we don’t… is actually a little disconcerting, to put it mildly.

Even without this hypothetical scenario, there is (or should be) plenty of other scope for debate. Malta has meanwhile legislated to allow emergency contraception, embryo freezing, gamete donation, and a host of other contingencies that technically obviate our antiquated abortion law (or at least, make it clearly outdated and in urgent need of revision). Should there be no discussion on any of that, either?
Should we all just sit back, and carry on pretending not to notice that some aspects of the ‘Embryo Protection Act’ blatantly contradict the above excerpt from the Criminal Code? And if so, why?

Because Arnold Cassola took it upon himself to ‘draw a red line’, and banish all discussion on the issue forever?

Sorry, folks, but things don’t work like that in the real world. I happen to agree with Mina Tolu that this is a necessary and long overdue discussion; and above all, that it cannot be left to take place only on the social media… where any sensible discussion is invariably drowned out by the usual deluge of chest-thumping hysteria.

Tolu is also right that this is a policy issue that has to be dealt with politically: it requires delicate legislative changes that can only be actuated by politicians. It is therefore very obviously politicians – and no other category of human being - who have to rise to the occasion, and display a little leadership on the matter once and for all.

Otherwise, I honestly fail to see the point of even having politicians to vote for in the first place.

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