Those who wage a ‘culture war’...

It should come as no real surprise that opponents of this bill have consistently distorted these facts

Abortion is, by definition, already a sensitive and emotive topic in itself. But the debate surrounding this issue has so far served only to intensify all the emotions: without bringing any clarity (or, even less, rationality) to the discussion.

A case in point is the Opposition’s insistence that – by presenting a bill to amend Malta’s abortion law, in the wake of the Andrea Prudente incident last summer – the government is ‘hell-bent on introducing abortion, at all costs’.

This is disingenuous. In reality, this amendment is aimed at protecting the lives of women, in cases where childbirth could place their health in grave jeopardy; and also, removing the threat of imprisonment for doctors (and women) who have no option but to terminate a pregnancy in such cases; or risk serious harm to the mother.

As such, it only provides a much-needed legislative framework, to govern a practice which, essentially, could be occurring within our health service.

Nonetheless, it should come as no real surprise that opponents of this bill have consistently distorted these facts. After all, the people on the frontline comprise a particular faction of Maltese society, which is steadfastly against openness or tolerance in many other facets of life, too.

They include religious conservatives, Catholic traditionalists, American-style evangelicals, and also members of the political far-right: all of whom seem eager to reduce an issue that is intrinsically about healthcare, to another “culture war” being waged against so-called ‘liberals’. 

Former Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo, for instance, is now waging his own campaign against what he calls the “liberal, woke” agenda both inside the PN and within the mainstream media – chiefly MaltaToday and the Times – and has even called for a ‘purge of liberals from the party’.

There is also PN grandee Tonio Borg: who failed in 2005 to entrench the abortion ban in the Maltese Constitution; but succeeded in energising the Gift Of Life movement, and rubbishing his critics (and again, the press) as “the liberal elite”.

As of recently, Borg has been protesting against the equality bills tabled by the Labour government: claiming that they prevent Church schools from “advancing lessons on the beginning of life in biology or the definition of traditional marriage.” Another former MP feeding conspiracy theories that Andrea Prudente’s life-threatening ordeal was ‘contrived’, is Jason Azzopardi.

Then there are fringe members like evangelical preacher Gordon John Manché, who has peddled conspiratorial links on COVID-19; and believes Donald Trump was “breaking the build-up to the new world order”; as well as members of Malta’s far-right who were also active in the COVID-sceptic movement throughout 2021. 

Chiefly fronting the campaign is the Life Network Foundation, led by Miriam Sciberras: an activist who had protested against the introduction of gay marriage in 2017, as well as IVF rights for lesbian and single women; and who, in protesting the Equality Bill, says that “threatening people into compliance [with equality] is tantamount to brainwashing and Marxist indoctrination.” 

All these opponents of the abortion amendment have many qualities in common: they are all against openness, the tolerance of differences, equality, if not the pursuit of happiness by people who are not like them; representing a world that is only defendable by strict orthodoxy – their own kind. 

In reality, however, one does not need to be “right wing” to oppose abortion; nor does being pro-choice imply that one is, by definition, “pro-abortion”. One merely needs to be in favour of viewing the life of a woman as equally ‘worthy of saving’, as any other life – including that of the unborn child, which (very often, in such cases as are being debated about today) cannot be saved at all.

One must also understand that any proud culture of basic healthcare necessarily recognises abortion as a core service underpinning women’s health and wellbeing; but Malta’s punitive approach hampers the ability of doctors to provide life-saving treatment and does not even recognise women’s autonomy to make their own decisions about their own bodies. This is shameful of an EU member state; and, moreover, incompatible with any party’s alignment with ‘European values’ of liberty.

Rather than supporting women’s healthcare, these forces seem comfortable in maintaining a status quo that chooses the potential death of the mother, over a safe medical abortion. In this respect, the hypocrisy of doctors or activists who believe in WHO guidelines on COVID vaccination – but then, refute the same WHO recommendations on reproductive rights and bodily autonomy – is galling. 

On closer scrutiny, one finds that the anti-abortion arguments hail from a Christian, politically conservative right that actually does not promote the common good, or the universalist values of ‘healthcare for all’; nor does it fall in step with the European mainstream of strong welfare states, or the values espoused by the European Parliament: the same Parliament that is supporting Malta’s slow build-up to return to its rightful rule-of-law. 

This is not the politics of hope, and certainly not that of reform. One can only ask, therefore, who is really promoting the culture of death in Malta: those who believe in universal healthcare, to the standards promoted by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists? Or those who feel comfortable with women being taken to the threshhold of death, to face the consequences of Malta’s ideological ban on abortion?