It's what we've come to expect from this particular government on any issue that inspires even a modicum of queasiness

The Skinny - No. 197 - Aborting Progress

A pro-choice rally in Valletta last year
A pro-choice rally in Valletta last year

What are we skinning? The Health and Justice Ministries announcing the watered-down version of the so-called 'abortion' bill, which now proposes that pregnancies can only be terminated when a woman's life is at unambiguous risk, and only following the sign-off of no less than three medical professionals.

Why are we skinning it? Because it offers a snapshot of a nation -- or at least, a political class -- which remains unprepared to take the bold leap into full bodily autonomy for women, largely because the anti-abortion crusade remains a leftover identity marker for a society that is otherwise undergoing rapid -- and admittedly, not always egalitarian or pleasant -- changes.

This isn't going to be a funny one, is it? Well, much like the rollercoasters and U-turns which have characterised the trajectory of this particular debate, that remains to be seen. So hold on to your hat.

Has it really been a rollercoaster though? I mean, the fact that we've discussed abortion at length over the past year or so is already a significant leap from the country's general tone on the subject, even up to five years ago or so.

Yeah but we've kind of just circled back to the status quo, haven't we? The picture among civil society groups from both sides of the divide very much points in that direction, alas.

What did they say, then? As you can imagine, the amendment being announced just this Friday didn't deter our intrepid journalists from getting the feelers out among the bulk of activists with skin in this particular game.

That includes... Well, literally everyone. The pro-life and pro-choice camp. Political parties large and small. The Church.

The verdict, then? The anti-choice lobbies sighed a collective sigh of relief. Their pro-choice counterparts buried their heads in their hands, some of them even calling this an active regression from the previous norm.

No revolutionary fervour from either side, then? No, but it was evident in another, curious quarter.

Which would that be? Prime Minister Robert Abela himself.

Oh? Yes, Abela referred to the revised amendment as nothing short of a marker of epochal change, claiming that the Labour Party had "made history" in pushing it forward.

I guess it certainly... did something. I suppose Abela's cabinet *should* be credited with at least acknowledging that an issue existed.

That is the literal definition of the bare minimum. It's what we've come to expect from this particular government on any issue that inspires even a modicum of queasiness.

Why do you think that is? Remember that Abela came into power in the wake of cataclysmic corruption allegations that toppled his predecessor, while a limp Opposition failed to make inroads either way.

So he's the continuity candidate of a poisoned chalice. And rocking the boat at this time would be at the very bottom of his list of priorities.

Do say: "While some movement on this front is always welcome, a watered-down amendment like the one being presented only strengthens the idea that Malta has a long way to go if it is to shed it regressive image on this matter, and that a cautious leader like Abela is the least likely figurehead to spearhead any revolutionary changes."

Don't say: "They've destroyed our village cores and skylines, invaded our beaches with deckchairs, disincentivised the Maltese working class from dignified conditions at traditional working class jobs... and now they want to take away our anti-abortion badge too?! Over my dead body."