‘Political parties don’t care about women. They only care about themselves’ | Marlene Farrugia

In her own words, independent MP MARLENE FARRUGIA provoked a ‘tsunami of emotion’ this week with her private member’s bill to decriminsalise abortion. But her intention was also to force women’s issues onto the national agenda, where they can no longer be ignored

Marlene Farrugia
Marlene Farrugia

This bill you presented in Parliament this week seems at a glance to contradict all your past positions on the same issue. A few years ago, you accused the Labour government of ‘trying to introduce abortion’ by permitting embryo-freezing; now, you yourself are proposing something that would (on paper) make abortion more accessible. Can you explain the process that led to this apparent change of heart?

First of all, the bill I presented is to repeal the criminalization of abortion: to remove the threat of imprisonment, both for the women concerned, and also for whoever helps them procure an abortion.  I did not present a bill to either regulate, or introduce, abortion in itself.

But in my experience – and as you said, I have spent most of my life defending the value of life at all stages; it’s something I still feel very strongly about today – I have come to realise that ‘condemnation’, and ‘fundamentalism’, will not get us anywhere, in the long run. Much worse than that: I am convinced that it will only result in more lives being lost. The lives of unborn babies; and also, the lives of women.

Because ‘death’ comes in different forms. There is physical death; and there is also psychological death… in other words, being traumatized for a lifetime.

So I feel that fundamentalism, and condemnation, is only driving us into a brick wall. It doesn’t save lives; on the contrary, it only creates a situation where we can’t even talk about the problem at all.

And we do need to talk about it. We need to acknowledge, discuss and treat the problem, in order to create a solution.

But it’s more than just that. I also want to help in the creation of a society where abortion will no longer even be needed. Because in order to reduce the demand for abortion, we need a complete plan: sex education, focusing on the real rights and responsibilities involved…  and that is something we simply don’t have, at the moment. Let’s be honest: the issue is still heavily stigmatized, even in schools.

We also need an adequate health system that covers the full spectrum of women’s needs, with particular emphasis on puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, perinatal care, menopause… providing psychological support, at each and every stage of a woman’s life.

The reality is: we don’t have any of these things here. Lots of women suffer from trauma in this country, all the time… and they are simply left to bear it on their own, for their entire lives.

Another thing we need is proper prevention. A far as I’m concerned, contraception should be free, and accessible. And we also need counselling. Not everybody can afford a therapist…


Excuse me for interrupting, but in the past you argued against the contraceptive pill, on the grounds that it is ‘abortive’…

Exactly. And I spoke out against the morning-after pill, too… because I believe that life starts at fertilization. Scientifically, that is what I have been taught…


But don’t you think there’s a contradiction in what you’re saying now?

No, because I still believe that we should do everything in our power to save each and every life… but – and this is the crux of the matter – not at the expense of women’s rights. Not at the cost of women losing their rights over their own bodies, and their own minds. And believe me: I thought deeply and very long about this. It cannot be, that women are always left to fend for themselves… without any support from anyone.

But I also believe that we can handle this impasse, and address these issues: not by condemning women; not by criminalizing women… and certainly not by leaving the Criminal Code as it is, so that we can keep women forever subjugated [taht it-takkuna].

Because, OK: it is true that no woman has ever gone to prison over abortion. But we are still subjugating women. At any time it likes, the government can choose to enforce this law, and use it for the purpose of arbitrary justice: as happened a few years ago in Morocco. You might remember the case of Hajar Raissouni: a dissident journalist, who went to a gynaecologist… and she was accused of having procured an abortion, and imprisoned.

God only knows how many other abortions take place in Morocco each year, without any consequences. But in this case, they decided to take action… whether she actually did have an abortion, or not. Why only in that case? Isn’t it obvious that it was to make an example of her, for her political views?

There is nothing stopping that sort of thing happening here in Malta, too. And let’s face it: no woman has gone to prison, but there have been cases of women being prevented from travelling abroad, for mere suspicion that they might be wanting to abort. And I spoke out against it, at the time…


Fair enough, but a lot of people out there are also asking: why precisely now? Some have accused you of having ulterior motives: for instance, that you presented this bill in order to place the government in an awkward position; or to create a public diversion from other issues; or as a form of ‘attention seeking’…

Let me put it this way. We have a narcissistic government, that always seems to think everything in the world revolves around itself.  They don’t stop to think that I, as a professional person, also meet women in my clinic all the time: women who are left to cope with all the pressures of COVID, for instance.

Because in times of crisis, it is always women who are made to bear the full brunt. Not only are they stuck at home [during lockdown], like everyone else; but they have to take care of the children, on top of all their other responsibilities… because the reality is that women always have to perform; no matter how psychologically traumatized they are. Many of them end up victims of domestic violence, because there will be tensions in the home, etc.

But no. Government doesn’t look at any of that; it always turns everything into an issue about itself. But to me, this is not an issue about government. This is an issue about women. And I began thinking, how can I start a discussion about women’s issues? I’ve already mentioned education and health… but there is also need for a proper welfare programme, so that women who get pregnant don’t end up on the poverty line.

Because no matter what the law says: it is still a fact that those women can lose their jobs. Some employers still dismiss their pregnant employees… and in any case, you could have a difficult pregnancy which keeps you from going to work anyway. You can’t exactly ‘go to work’, if you’re throwing up all the time...

These are the facts, no matter what people say. So my intention was to ‘shock the system’, and force the country to finally confront all these women’s issues – because they’re all related.

And it has to start from somewhere. That’s why I chose to start with the issue of decriminalization. Because there’s no point in saying: ‘no to abortion, no to abortion’… when the reality is that women can simply travel abroad to get one anyway. If we’re going to be serious about this, we have to provide women with all the options – here in Malta. It’s only when women have all the options available, that they can make an informed decision…


By ‘all the options’, do you also mean the option to terminate a pregnancy here in Malta? Because if so, you’ve gone slightly beyond mere ‘decriminalisation’ there. You seem to arguing in favour of legalization of abortion…

Not in the bill I presented…


No, but in the way you’re arguing now. Let me put it you to directly: do you agree that women should have the right to terminate a pregnancy?

I agree that we should always try to save lives. I agree that we should do everything in our power, so that women don’t feel they have to resort to abortion. And I also agree that abortion is, in itself, a tragedy. Even women who have abortions, agree with this. It is a tragedy for everyone concerned. When people tell me, ‘but three-quarters of the country disagree with abortion’… my response is: ‘I should think that everyone would disagree.’  Even pro-choice people disagree with abortion; in the sense that it is not something they actually want to happen.

But the argument is that: if you really need to do it… it should be there, so that you can do it in a decent, medical way: so you don’t have to traumatize yourself in the process; so you don’t have to end up doing it yourself, on your own, with a coat-hanger.

So my argument remains: yes, by all means let us work towards reducing the demand for abortion. But this can only be done through education, and proper health services. It certainly cannot be done the way we’re trying to it right now: by sweeping everything under the carpet…where it will only happen more, not less.


On that subject, statistics suggest that between 300 and 400 Maltese women a year seek abortions. Ironically, this is proportionally higher than countries where the practice is fully legal. How do you account for that, yourself?

It is no surprise to me. And I’ll tell you why. If, instead of driving it underground, we offered those women proper solutions… for instance, by reassuring them; explaining to them that there are other options… and above all, by providing structured support services: so they don’t feel they have to give up absolutely everything, to have a baby… I am convinced we could save a lot of those unborn lives.

But the reality is that those women don’t even come anywhere close to seeking advice. Because if they approach someone who is – excuse my language – a bastard… they could end up getting reported. And this sort of thing happens here: we even had an MP suggesting in parliament that pregnant women should not be allowed to travel. I was flabbergasted…

This is precisely the type of fundamentalism that opened my eyes to the reality of the situation…


At the same time, however, there are practicalities involved. As an experienced politician, you are surely aware that the two main parties will never support the bill you presented this week. So… why present it at all, if you know full well that it would only be shot down (as, in fact, happened)?

When you present a bill in Parliament, it is partly in the hope that the issue will be discussed; but partly also so that the political parties show their true colours to the people.

And if nothing else, the bill I presented provoked a tsunami of discussion – which was needed: because if we are going to address the chaos and mayhem that exists, there has to be a bit of disorder. It also unleashed a tsunami of emotion – as it well should. And I was all along aware that, by presenting this bill, I would be accused of ‘promoting abortion’. That is always the danger of discussing abortion in this country. The spin doctors immediately spun it that way… to turn me into a ‘witch’. I’ve been called a ‘devil’, a ‘demon’… all that remains is for them to burn me at the stake, really.

But it doesn’t matter. I’m a public person; and I’m thick-skinned… because I have to be.  But that’s just an aside. The fact is, my intention in presenting this bill was to kick-start a national discussion… and that aim has already been achieved.  But it was to also to expose the two political parties, insofar as where they really stand with regard to women’s issues. And that aim, too, has been achieved.

Just look at how the two parties actually responded. The PN came out with a simple ‘no’ – ‘we will never agree with decriminalisation’. Labour, on the other hand… [pause]… you have to laugh, really. What was their response? That my bill ‘chokes the discussion’. What rubbish! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It is their own attitude that ‘chokes discussion’ in this country…

Because let’s face it: neither party wants to take a stand. All they really want to do is keep using abortion as a political football; so that every time there is a serious corruption scandal in this country… they simply dangle the ‘abortion carrot’, alienate the public, and just carry on doing whatever they like. So obviously, they don’t care about women’s issues. They’re not even remotely interested in women, at the end of the day.

After all, the bill I presented was only to decriminalize abortion… so that it no longer remains a crime punishable by imprisonment.  And they don’t even want to discuss that. So even if my bill doesn’t lead to an immediate change; at least, it will start a discussion that might lead to change further down the line. And at least… it shows up our two main political parties up for what they really are, once and for all.