Every article I submit fills me with a degree of trepidation. Putting your opinion out there is always unnerving but nothing compares with the first time. Which for this newspaper was way back in October 2007. I remember reading the article over and over, checking for grammar and punctuation and wondering whether it would pass muster. I couldn’t have chosen a riskier topic for my debut. I wrote about abortion.
Never an easy subject, even when you’ve gained some experience. And time, if anything, has made it all the more difficult.
Sixteen years later, although my own private feelings about abortion remain largely unchanged, I don’t think I’d publish that piece again in a hurry.
What I do know for certain is that, today, even if I were to publish a heavily edited version, it would definitely attract a barrage of comments from both sides of the abortion divide.
Back then, the article did not make waves or elicit even a single comment, despite coinciding with a visit to Malta from Women on Waves founder Rebecca Gomperts.
That, in itself, is significant and a sign of the times. If nothing else, it shows that 16 years ago abortion in Malta was so completely off the agenda that nobody was ready to talk about it, let alone express a strong opinion.
I will not be wading knee-deep into the abortion debate. I have never had an abortion, never struggled with poverty, never been raped nor informed that I was carrying an inviable foetus. And although I did have a couple of very brief but-for-the grace-of God-relationships (the kind you now shudder to think about), mercifully I never had to think about bringing a child into the world with a man who was physically or verbally abusive, controlling, unhinged or downright dangerous. So, my opinions, such as they are, are strictly ‘armchair’.
I can’t possibly tell you what I would have done if I had ever found myself in one of those desperate situations. The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a little bit like being held at gunpoint.
However much you may play it out in your mind, you simply don’t know what you will actually do until you’re confronted by it.
But what I can definitely tell you is that if I ever had a termination, whatever the circumstances, I’d never recover from it. Does that sound flippant, hypothetical, or even contradictory, from someone who has never had an abortion? There are some things you just know, instinctively. ‘Life-changing’ pretty much sums it up. I am in awe of abortion.
This is not to pass judgement on the choices others make. I am acutely aware of the grey areas in the abortion debate and I know that there are many people who have had abortions and have felt comfortable with that decision. I really am not here to challenge or change anyone’s mind. Women have abortions for various and very personal reasons. And it’s never an easy decision.
But it’s infinitely harder when you don’t want to but feel you have no other choice. In the UK – where, ironically, a recent budget has increased government childcare – research has found that six out of 10 women blamed the prohibitive cost of childcare for their decision to terminate a pregnancy.
The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a little bit like being held at gunpoint- Michela Spiteri
It is not surprising that mothers already struggling with the financial burden of children will feel they have no choice but to terminate an otherwise much wanted pregnancy. Imagine the soul-searching and heartache. In this context, the argument ‘then don’t get pregnant’ seems hollow and callous.
I recently came across a Facebook post written by a foreigner living in Malta. It set me thinking. I paraphrase it here:
“It is really hard to be working parents in Malta. Especially if you are expat. There is no support. Zero, none. Childcare sends them home all the time – every day I am worried they will call. Me or my husband need to take care of them.
“How many times can we ask for leave? It is really frustrating. I lost peace of my mind. And, with all respect, babysitters are really asking more than I can afford. It is like a loop. I am crying every day. I will feel bad all my life for leaving my four-month-old. I am tired, alone, flat broke. I am not in healthy mind so I can’t even be a good mother to my children.”
Childcare related terminations are not something we Maltese have had to worry about very much. And that’s not just the affluent among us. Traditionally, lower income families have tended – for various reasons (and, yes, for the financial support too) – to have more children. Then there’s our strong support system of family, where childcare is notionally ‘free’ and never far away.
Even so, and especially with more and more foreigners coming to live here without their extended families, there is an increasing number struggling to cope. These people need help.
There are other situations too. Take for instance a pregnancy which, far from being a happy event, seems like the end of the world.
Pregnancy in the throes of an abusive marriage or relationship, without financial independence, is not something I’d wish upon anyone. Being tied to someone who has hurt you and who you know will hurt your child would make any mother feel desperate.
And a woman who gives birth is more likely to have to remain tied to an abusive man forever. Fact.
So rather than waste time debating the subject ad infinitum from polar opposites, what pro-choice and pro-life groups should be doing is working together to support women and children more comprehensively.
Practical assistance, rather than words, would make their situation less desperate. Arguably, more children would then be born and more mothers able to exercise choice. It’s a fair compromise in an imperfect world.