From abortion to tunnel vision

It will not be easy – the arguments against abortion are not all wrong and many arguments have the support of young mothers, families and grounded people

We all know that for years abortion was the political topic that nobody would touch, not even remotely with a bargepole
We all know that for years abortion was the political topic that nobody would touch, not even remotely with a bargepole

For the first time ever, a group of Maltese (mostly women) have come together to campaign for a pro-choice stand and they have launched a bid to legalise abortion in Malta.

They know that the majority of Maltese object to abortion, but they are aware that now is the chance to galvanise support for their cause.

The climate appears to be just right for Voice for Choice to kick off, represented by a spectrum of small organisations and individuals. Voice for Choice has had no fear showing their faces and they spoke openly to the press and called for the decriminalisation of abortion and advocated for new laws – laws that will ensure that the health of pregnant people is protected in line with international human rights standards, including through safe, legal abortion.

This is the beginning of a long campaign, but it is bound to endure a lot of bumpy rides and it will not be an easy campaign. None of the political parties are in favour of abortion and the media is in general apprehensive about debating the subject or taking a stand.

The coalition said it was “striving for a society based on equal respect and justice, free from discrimination for all genders and minority groups” and “ensuring that barriers in accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights are removed”, “promoting equality in [this] area” and “removing the shame and stigma related to [such] rights”.

We all know that for years abortion was the political topic that nobody would touch, not even remotely with a bargepole.

But the political and social climate has changed. Of late the Maltese Church appears unwilling to stand up to the social reforms which enjoy strong civil and political support; and there is little doubt that the Muscat administration’s progressive reforms in gay rights, gay conversion and civil unions have galvanised these women campaigners to come forward.

Social policy academic Andrea Dibben told the press on Friday: “Abortion is illegal in all circumstances in Malta but women are still doing it. Since Malta has made progress in social inclusivity, we should now revisit our abortion laws.”

Dibben argued that Voice for Choice is not yet in a position to say what all its members agree on with regards to abortion, although family lawyer and activist Lara Dimitrijevic told this newspaper that irrespective of the question of when life begins, “every pregnant person needs to be protected and respected, whatever their choices.”

What Dimitrijevic was trying to say, I guess, is that every woman has a right over her body and the fate of her pregnancy. Since her last press conference a year ago she had noted that many people had since united to rally behind one central message. “We are foreseeing that this coalition will grow,” she said.

It will not be easy – the arguments against abortion are not all wrong and many arguments have the support of young mothers, families and grounded people

To get somewhere with their campaign, they will need to fight tooth and nail, and demystify the so-called myths surrounding abortion, by providing factual information about sexual and reproductive rights.

It will not be easy – the arguments against abortion are not all wrong and many arguments have the support of young mothers, families and grounded people who will argue that life should be preserved at all costs.

The anti-abortion campaign is after all not just entirely represented by religious zealots.

Abortion continues to remain criminalised in Malta in all circumstances, a point underlined by the coalition. This has pushed women to travel to the UK and Italy and seek abortion there. Many will argue that this kind of abortion is leaving a mental and physical wound on those who carry out the abortion. But the counter argument to that is that abortion in any form, still has a lasting effect.

It will be interesting to see how this campaign evolves and what the arguments for and against it will turn out to be.

 

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Some activists tend to underestimate the impact of their actions. Some of us just argue it is not really important what the conclusion is, but that we express our opinions.

So I am very concerned that the first symbolic protest organised yesterday in front of the parliament building by environmental groups on the Gozo tunnel failed to take into consideration two fundamental issues.

The first concern is that anything said before the May elections will be swept under the carpet and used against them, or better still, to fortify the arguments for the Gozo tunnel. The European elections need issues and there do not seem to be many of them.

The declaration in front of parliament will put pressure on PN and PL parliamentarians to join forces and say the obvious: that they are all for the Gozo tunnel.

Polls show that the vast majority of Gozitans are in favour of the tunnel and any parliamentarian and candidate for the European elections will be insane to counter this and not wave a green light to the tunnel.

And Joseph Muscat, who knows the chess game of politics more than most people, will do his very best to paint the environmentalists as either some fringe group or enlightened middle class preaching from their leafy pulpits.

Which brings me to the second point, that is the face to the coalition of the anti-Gozo tunnel campaign itself. Surely no one needs to be told that a coalition of sorts cannot be captained by someone who has been at the centre of so much controversy in the past.

And by controversy I mean someone who was the face for large development projects which served to raise the ire of the greens years back.

I really thought that this was common sense. And yet this does not seem to a prevailing trait in this grouping. None of all this should serve to detract the arguments against the Gozo tunnel, and first and foremost the most convincing argument should be the economic one.  The project, when combined with the land reclamation opportunities, will surely siphon hundreds of millions of euros away from other much needed and beneficial programmes.

Unfortunately we do not even have an Opposition that can objectively argue about this. Which is why the groups protesting against this monstrosity have to get it right.

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