Overplaying the abortion card

It is perhaps to be expected that the Nationalist Party leader would resort to playing this card. This is, after all, not the first time that the PN has resorted to scaremongering on abortion during election time

At a PN campaign event on Sunday, Opposition leader Dr Adrian Delia described next week’s European elections as a “referendum on abortion”.

It is perhaps to be expected that the Nationalist Party leader would resort to playing this card. This is, after all, not the first time that the PN has resorted to scaremongering on abortion during election time.

In the first European Parliament election in 2004, the PN had tried using the abortion scare against Alternative Demokratika. At a time when Arnold Cassola was polling well, then PN leader Lawrence Gonzi tried to stymie the Greens by associating Cassola’s position, as secretary of the European Greens, with the pro-choice leanings of that political grouping.

This view did not take into consideration the fact that AD – despite being a Green Party – had since its inception been opposed to the introduction of abortion. Cassola himself has consistently reiterated his personal pro-life stance – which has, more recently, resulted in a fall-out with AD over the same issue.

It was clear from the outset, then, that the abortion smear did not reflect a genuine concern; on the contrary, it was a rather transparent attempt at ascribing ‘guilt through association’.

Of course, that attempt failed. People saw through the scare tactic and Cassola went on to poll more than 20,000 votes: AD’s best-ever performance, and possibly the best performance of any candidate, outside the two-party circuit, since Independence.

This time around, Adrian Delia appears to be sticking to the same script of rolling out abortion to hit at Labour. Once again, the emphasis is on associating the Labour Party with the position of the European Socialist and Democrats.

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

Delia warned that voting for PL prospective europarliamentarians would be akin to voting in favour of the Party of European Socialists’ (PES) manifesto in favour of the deliberate early termination of pregnancy.

“The European Socialists’ manifesto wants to impose abortion. […] It will be PN MEP candidates in Europe who defend the right to life against those who want to impose abortion on us, and who will fight against a common tax system which destroys jobs and investment,” he said.

As with AD in 2004, there is every reason to believe that this campaign strategy is not motivated by a genuine concern with abortion.

Labour has also made its pro-life position painstakingly clear; and just like the PN on other issues, its affiliation with the PES does not oblige the party to adopt all that grouping’s policy stances.

Significantly, even Malta’s non-political pro-life lobby seems to have seen through the stratagem. Commenting on this newspaper’s portal, Gift of Life chairman Paul Vincenti noted that: “The PN is not being wise, and they are indeed using a very complex and sensitive issue to gain some political mileage. I don’t see that pro-life people will connect with the abortion/EU elections cry. I would suggest they find a better way to win the minds and the trust of voters.”

This fact alone should alert the Opposition leader to the short-sightedness of his approach. On another level, by making abortion his party’s campaign rallying cry, Delia is not only being disingenuous, but also signalling panic within the Nationalist camp.

His alarmism over abortion comes across as shrill, especially when one considers that his fundamental argument – that “every vote for candidates of the Maltese Socialist Party in the European elections bring Malta one step closer to introducing abortion” – flies in the face of all the known facts.

Delia knows, just as well as any other lawyer conversant in EU law, that abortion can never be imposed on Malta by Brussels. Abortion does not fall within the competences of the EU, and to change this would require changing the treaties: something that is not on the cards.

Even in that remote possibility that abortion may one day be included as an EU competence, the Eddie Fenech Adami administration negotiated a protocol to be annexed to the 2004 accession treaty, making it amply clear that this would not apply to Malta.

From this perspective, to cling to a failed, discredited strategy also indicates an inability to fight this election campaign on any other issues.

It betrays the weakness of a leadership that has no real vision for a new, invigorated PN; and that is also hampered by party infighting, and heading towards certain defeat at the polls.

But Delia soldiers on regardless. To be fair, it may be a tactic aimed at galvanising the PN grassroots, who may feel compelled to stay at home on Election Day; but it certainly is not a tactic that will work to bring the lost sheep back to the fold.

Ultimately, Adrian Delia is simply tagging on to a phantom issue. He has resorted to the ultimate scare tactic, like Gonzi did in 2004, in a bid to stir the pot. But his tactic will fail.

Abortion will only be introduced in Malta if people will it, and if the Maltese parliament votes for it. To argue otherwise is to ignore reality, and show signs of panic. It is the strategy of someone who is fighting a war for his own, and his party’s, political survival.

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