Whenever I hear a politician saying they are anti-abortion all I can hear is the politician saying they are OK with women suffering.
Our current legislation is not only anti-women, it basically sees women as nothing more than incubators - all dignity and personhood stripped from a pregnant woman as soon as her eggs are fertilised.
Serious debate is urgently needed, yet the current abortion debate in Malta looks very similar to a social experiment video I once saw.
In this experiment a woman who is distraught and heavily pregnant is seen on a busy street corner with a bottle of liquor in her hand. She occasionally takes a sip and the response of the people on the street is recorded.
The people can be seen doing mostly one of two things: Some will pass by the woman, give her one horrified look and continue on their way, others turn quite violent either shouting at her or snatching the bottle from her hands. During this experiment, only a handful of people actually stopped and asked the woman what was wrong and why was she resorting to drinking when she was heavily pregnant.
The current abortion debate right now feels a lot like this social experiment.
Abortion is seen just as a black and white issue with many of those who are against abortion judging the act, maybe even throwing the usual 'abortion is murder' sentence around. Unfortunately, we are seeing a lot more people resorting to shouting, cursing, vilifying and even turning violent when someone even mentions the word.
Anyone who is so keen to see abortion as either right or wrong is missing all the grey areas which happen to be the realities of women living in Malta today
"We're giving a voice to the voiceless and the ends justify the means," they will say, but anyone who is so keen to see abortion as either right or wrong is missing all the grey areas which happen to be the realities of women living in Malta today.
There are three specific grey areas I will refer to and for which the law needs to imminently change: abortion in cases where the mother's life is in danger, abortion in the case of rape, abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.
Abortion last thing on my mind but...
To put my cards on the table, I am pro-choice which is not the same as saying I am pro-abortion. I never had an abortion and if I was to be pregnant, abortion would be the last thing on my mind. But that doesn't mean I don't respect the decision of another woman to control what happens to her body.
Pro-choice is a term used worldwide which means a person believes that a women's reproductive rights are her own and no one else's. Stop trying to co-opt the word to mean anything else. Pro-choice is about body autonomy and is defined in every dictionary out there as such.
In May 2019, Malta has a blanket ban on abortion. This can be found in Criminal Law. Anyone (and I do mean anyone) who for some reason or another causes a woman to have a miscarriage is punishable by law. That means, according to our law, abortion is illegal under all circumstances. Just for the record, the only places around the world who have such a law are: Malta and the Vatican City in Europe, and the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Nicaragua (data according to the World Health Organisation).
When speaking of abortion in the case when the mother's life is in danger, many anti-abortion activists will immediately shout out Double Effect.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy define Double Effect as a practice "invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end."
While the principle of Double Effect is used in Malta this is only done at the discretion of the doctor who is treating the women and this principle doesn't take into consideration cases where the women's life might be in danger. A recent example of this is the case of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland.
After a miscarriage had been diagnosed, she was denied an abortion because the foetus's heart was still beating. She developed sepsis and lost her life prompting protests across the country which later caused the change in legislation in Ireland. Furthermore, even if the principle of Double Effect is in fact used by local doctors, why isn't this reflected in our laws? Why is a woman and her doctor still liable for prosecution? Why hasn't the law changed to accommodate the principle of Double Effect?
When a woman is raped
Abortion in case of rape is another grey area. An 11-year-old from Argentina was very close to dying (after attempting two suicides) after doctors in Tucumán stalled to give her the abortion which was rightfully hers and that she wanted.
"I want you to remove what the old man put inside me," the girl told her doctors according to her lawyers. She was raped by her grandmother's boyfriend aged 65.
She had to deliver the baby via a C-section at 23 weeks. She had entered the health system at 16 weeks pregnant. At 11 years old, weighing under 50kg, this child would have had little chance to carry on a pregnancy full term. It is a hard read and many may think that such things don't happen in Malta but that's far from the truth.
It is worth noting that in the past few years Malta averaged three births a year, by girls aged between 10 to 14.
We don't have accurate statistics how many women are raped in Malta but we do know that Malta has the highest rate in Europe (47%) of people who believe that ''women make up claims of rape'' which means we are not living in a country which is conducive to rape victims coming forward to report sexual assault.
Statistics apart, rape is a reality and in case of pregnancy, no one but the victim should decide on a way forward. It is easy to say that life should be protected and that the embryo had no choice in the way it was conceived but it's a completely different matter to carry a pregnancy to term from such a traumatic experience.
Imagine something as magical as the foetus kicking reminding you of that agonizing moment, not to mention the changing effects a pregnancy can have on a woman.
Finally, another heartbreaking grey area, that of fatal foetal anomalies, where the foetus has no chance of living outside the mother's uterus or where when born it will have an extremely short and painful life. We're not talking about foetuses who have down syndrome or cerebral palsy. Foetuses with fatal abnormalities also tend to put the mother's life in danger whilst the psychological effects of delivering a baby only to see it die are devastating.
However, I do understand that some mothers might choose to still take these pregnancies to term but again, this boils down to choice. If a woman is not ready to deal with the trauma, when there is no chance of life, why shouldn't an abortion be made available in these circumstances?
I am fully aware that I have used cases which might sound extreme but that doesn't mean these stories aren't being lived by girls and women in Malta. This is why we need to break the taboo and start speaking up about these realities. It gives me hope to see new organisations such as Doctors For Choice - Malta being set up to break this taboo and uncover the realities women in Malta have to go through.
Even if it is just one woman a year who needs the abortion procedure because of one of the above-mentioned scenarios, we should be changing our laws so that she doesn't need to either resort to internet pills, DIY abortions or having to dip into a savings account to be able to afford a plane ticket for a safe abortion.
Our blanket ban is hurting Maltese women.
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