Legislators are there to legislate: not pontificate

Andrea Prudente was not the first woman who needed protection, and she will certainly not be the last, either. So, if our MPs are truly as ‘pro-life’ as they proclaim, they should act now

File photo
File photo

There are many ironies surrounding the recent case of Andrea Prudente: the US citizen who was denied potentially life-saving medical abortion at Malta’s State hospital.

On one level, there is the stark fact that a woman’s life was put at risk, for several weeks, as a direct result of Malta’s supposedly ‘pro-life’ laws.

As has been variously reported in the international press: Andrea Prudente was on holiday in Malta, when her waters broke at 16 weeks of pregnancy. She lost all amniotic fluid and had a detached placenta; but doctors at Mater Dei Hospital refused to terminate the pregnancy, because the foetus still had a heartbeat.

Under such circumstances, there was never any chance of saving the foetus’s life. But because Malta’s abortion law does not explicitly allow for any exception whatsoever, even in such extreme cases: doctors had no choice but to wait until the heartbeat of the foetus stopped; or else, labour took place naturally.

Both these scenarios would have yielded the same result: a spontaneous (as opposed to medically-induced) abortion. They would also both expose the mother to an unacceptably high risk of developing serious, potentially life-threatening complications.

As a result, Ms Prudente’s life was unnecessarily placed in danger, for two whole weeks; to avoid performing a medical abortion, in a case where the foetus was destined to be naturally aborted anyway.

Prof. Isabel Stabile, of Doctors For Choice, summed up the resulting irony quite succinctly: “This woman is alive, this foetus is also alive, but this foetus will die. Do we want two deaths on our hands?”

Indeed, this is the direct outcome of Malta’s stolid refusal to ever update its abortion laws, since they were first enacted in the mid-1850s. The dilemma faced by doctors, in this (and other) cases, has less to do with morality, than with the practical difficulties of applying an outdated law.

This was implicit, even in the Malta College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ response: which conceded that its members “strive to give the best management possible, whilst working within the legal framework of our country”.

Clearly, then, the blame for this unacceptable state of affairs lies not with Malta’s medical establishment itself - in fact, some 60 Maltese doctors (not all affiliated with Doctors For Choice) have since filed a judicial protest, calling for changes to Malta’s strict anti-abortion law – but with ‘the legal framework of our country’.

And this brings us to a second major irony: the uncanny silence, emanating from a political establishment that usually never misses an opportunity, to somehow turn abortion into a political ‘hot potato’.

As PN policy research president Martina Caruana very aptly put it: ‘the silence is defeaning’. Not only did neither of the main two political parties issue any form of statement about the issue; but the Labour government – and the Health Ministry, in particular - only exacerbated the situation by simply maintaining a wall of silence throughout.

And yet, this was a medical emergency, of the kind that governments (of any political hue) are obliged to address, through legislation. But while our Members of Parliament are very quick to remind us all about their own, private ‘pro-life’ beliefs – and even then: very clearly, only for the purpose of their own self-advancement – it seems that not one of them had a single word to say, about a case where the life of a women (as opposed to a foetus) was actively endangered, by Malta’s antiquated abortion laws.

This would be unacceptable, even if it wasn’t Parliament’s express duty to legislate, on matters where legislation is so sorely needed. Even the simple fact that Malta’s name was once again tarnished, by embarrassing headlines in the international press, should have prompted some form of official governmental response.

Yet the government responded by simply pretending the issue doesn’t exist at all: which is, de facto, precisely the same reason why such cases – avoidable though they may be, by means of a simply Act of Parliament – are clearly destined to keep recurring, in future.

Once again, Martina Caruana hit the nail on the head, when resorting to Facebook to vent her own exasperation (and that of thousands of other citizens, who are finally beginning to see through this political charade):

“We elect politicians to legislate, not mug for the camera, or drop sound bites for media houses, or grandstand for social media followers.  […] What is so difficult about doing the job you were elected to do? If you don’t know that a legislator’s job is to legislate, perhaps you shouldn’t have run to be one. Our elected officials are not supposed to be elected preachers or prayer warriors.”

She is quite right: the job of a legislator is to legislate, not pontificate. And on the subject of abortion, alone: there is now overwhelming evidence that our current legislation urgently requires an urgent update, to offer women (and doctors) the protection they need.

Andrea Prudente was not the first woman who needed protection; and she will certainly not be the last, either. So if our MPs are truly as ‘pro-life’ as they proclaim: they should act now, to prevent any unnecessary deaths in future.