Marlene Farrugia’s tabling of a draft law in parliament to decriminalise abortion came as a bolt out of the blue and has managed to shift attention away from the Labour Party’s attempt at presenting itself as a ‘progressive’ party, with its latest cry of ‘legalise cannabis’. 

Her unexpected move has really swept the carpet from under the feet of Robert Abela’s party, as regards media and public attention. 

A second surprise was caused by the fact that it was she who presented this bill because, according to journalist Matthew Vella, Farrugia was “one-time anti-divorce, pill-sceptic and anti-IVF”.

An even greater surprise was the name of the seconder of her bill, Godfrey Farrugia. In fact, in 2016 he was against the introduction of the morning-after pill, in 2018 he was against embryo freezing and, in 2019, as leader of the Democratic Party, he had outlined his opposition to abortion, calling for policies that can safeguard life at all stages and focus on the root of causes for unwanted pregnancies.

Of course, there is nothing wrong in people changing opinions after having been convinced of the validity of the arguments of their former adversaries.

Responses to the abortion bill were immediate.

Life Network Foundation, the pro-life lobby, said it was “shocked beyond belief”; Archbishop Charles Scicluna stated that a woman’s womb must not become a tomb, ONE TV chairman, Jason Micallef told Marlene Farrugia to piss off and President George Vella reiterated his stand against abortion.

On the other hand, Doctors for Choice described the bill as a first for women in Malta, saying that it is the fruit of a lot of work carried out by pro-choice lobbies; Young Progressive Beings described it as “a historical day for Malta, for social progress and for women’s rights here”; Women’s Rights Foundation said that the bill was completely unprecedented and that it was about time that something of the sort has been done while Graffitti welcomed the draft law.

As regards the political parties, the Nationalist Party immediately said “no way”.

ADPD responded that “To have the courage to discuss something like this is essential. As a country, we have been avoiding the discussion for years. Marlene’s step forward in the House today gives this debate a new direction. Much is left to do. This is just the first step”.

I am against abortion, except in the case when the mother’s life is at risk

Like them or hate them, agree or disagree, the NGOs, the Church and the two political parties were clear in their reaction.

What was astonishing was the Labour Party reaction: it came out against a parliamentary proposal to decriminalise abortion, saying a private member’s bill pushing for the change “chokes” debate about a sensitive issue. 

Such declaration stinks of crass hypocrisy and political expediency. Expediency, because Labour is scared of declaring openly its beliefs on the eve of an election; hypocrisy, because we all know that prominent exponents of the party are in favour of abortion. Now, thanks to Abela’s expediency, all party exponents have been gagged.

Not the first time, really. Just think of the gutless Labour MPs who all kept quiet while Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi were raping our country.

I find such an attitude to be very dishonest. Voters need to know clearly the views of political parties and candidates on such subject before the general election.

And that is why, as an independent candidate, I declare my position clearly here, before the elections.

For me, the issue of abortion involves two entities: the mother and the foetus. This is where the philosophical-ethical aspect comes up: one either believes the foetus is a human life or else an object.

There is no middle way.

I can understand those who believe that a foetus is an object and that, therefore, abortion is no problem for them.  But I believe that the foetus is a human life.

And, therefore, I am against abortion, except in the case when the mother’s life is at risk.

Ideally, we must strive to prevent situations whereby a woman ends up in such a situation. This can be done through contraception, better sexual education including on the morning-after pill, education on relationships and addressing domestic violence.

Farrugia has stated that her proposed bill aims at ensuring that no woman or member of the medical professional ends up in jail. 

To this end, I believe the present law should be amended so that the present three-year sentence stipulated for the woman and the maximum sentence of four years jail stipulated for the doctor are repealed.

Arnold Cassola, independent candidate and ex- secretary general of European Greens

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