Stories are being told to us on social and other media about people, usually women, who needed help because of an unwanted pregnancy and found that getting help brought them face to face with many taboos that stopped them seeking or getting help. 

By taboos we mean unreasonable prohibitions, ‘no-goes’ that stop us even considering and thinking certain matters.

Taboos and lack of good help brought in their trail stories of untold suffering. A little reflection can help us think about what taboos block the way to good help and how they can be tackled to improve the lives of people caught up in such distressing situations. 

Taboo 1 is the mother’s or parents’ taboo and reluctance to speak up and to seek help. This is the first and, in a way, the last taboo. If other taboos mentioned below are at play, no wonder Taboo 1 will be at work, stopping parents facing an ill-timed pregnancy from seeking help.

Taboo 2 is the stigma that society inflicts on people who have an ill-timed pregnancy and who need and want a solution that does not disrupt and shatter their life and future. This is gravest when the pregnancy results from the devastating experience of rape but it can also mean refusing to acknowledge that a mature married couple with an ill-timed pregnancy can and should get help out of the problem. 

Stigma is when people do not esteem you, blame you for what you or others did or got hit by, or even see you as not one who should get help.

Counsellors and social workers, pastors and other helpers have to very clearly give the message that they are completely free of this taboo, and that they welcome the person asking for help with open arms, an open heart and open understanding.

Taboo 3 is the denial some thinkers and helpers might have of the clear fact that there is little, probably nothing, they can do to deter people from going abroad to have abortions in countries where this is legal.

Taboo 4 is the taboo that stops counselling professionals and helpers of various kinds from helping users to make decision that end up being against the values of the counsellor. Fr Felix Biestek SJ, very influential in social work literature, held that the professional or helper’s duty is to assist the helped person to decide for herself or himself, but should not help the person to implement that decision if that decision is against the helper’s moral beliefs. 

Taboo 5 is any rules that do not allow helping professions from protecting the secrecy in such cases. 

If there is a taboo on keeping secret the information given by the client who asks for help, this will deter the parent from seeking help. 

In most European countries it is legal to help illegal immigrants with social or health problems without denouncing them. In Malta, drug users are given help without being reported. I do not think that government entities should in any way encourage people to break Maltese law against abortion. But if parents who consider the idea of doing an abortion are reported by their helpers, this will stop them seeking help. 

Such a silence makes possible the promotion of alternatives to abortion by ensuring that people refer themselves in the first place. Of course, the duty to report serious harm to children will have to apply in defined cases, given the frightening freedom, reaching up to infanticide, allowed in certain states. It will be a compromise in its starkest sense: tolerating harm without condoning it, for the sake of a greater good.

Taboo 6 is the refusal to call a spade a spade: the refusal of pro-abortionists to acknowledge that an unborn embryo or foetus is a human individual who has started a human life and is waiting to be born and to flourish just as we have had the fortune to do, not having ourselves been aborted. The taboo denying such an important fact leads to the reduction of the issue of abortion to simply a mother’s health problem. 

Taboos should be replaced by an open understanding, an open heart, a practical generosity and an encouragement to responsibility

If a mother is suffering in her health because of the burden of taking care of her children and, perhaps, her elderly parents, the solution is not to snuff out the life of these family members, but for society to do its duty to help her in real and tangible ways.

Taboo 7 is the taboo that is often spread by abortionists and stopping responsible and consistent moral thinking. If in a Middle Eastern country men drown their wives in the family swimming pool for ‘dishonouring their family’, nobody says it is discriminatory for this not to be allowed in Malta. 

Crying ‘discrimination’ is not a substitute for moral responsibility and responsible moral thinking. Unfortunately, the cry of ‘discrimination’ is the favourite argument of the Maltese pro-abortionists, even though it can be used to justify practically anything, from wife drowning, through corruption, to infanticide. 

If the lives of the unborn are not protected in a nearby country, it does not result in a right for the protection to disappear in all countries, but it all hangs on the moral issue of whether this is the intentional ending of a human life in the first place. The duty to make responsible moral decisions should not be blocked before it even starts.

Taboo 8 is the taboo that stops us thinking outside the box. Maltese society has cast away many taboos and got used to remarriage and same-sex marriage and many other changes. Similarly, there is nothing that stops us soon finding it natural to accept to help solidly parents who are faced with a pregnancy that gravely burdens and disrupts their life. 

It should become perfectly natural for married parents or partners to be intensely helped psychologically, emotionally and practically to adapt to the challenges of living and carrying through this pregnancy while taking care of their family and social role responsibilities. The child can then, if need be, be adopted, publicly and without stigma, and given a loving and cherishing launch into a life that should never ever have been placed under threat.

After all, many of us live a way of life in which our sexuality can just as easily result in such a thing happening to us. After all, as well, Malta is now facing a fertility problem, and solid help to parenthood is needed, as a commonplace not an exceptional matter: help in deed and not just through protests, words and proclamations of rights, whether or not they go against the rights of others.

Young pregnant teenagers who have had the devastating experience of rape would be harder to help, but still should be offered an unconditionally accepting response and solid and very generous help by very skilful people and well-resourced agencies and communities.

Taboos should be replaced by an open understanding, an open heart, a practical generosity and an encouragement to responsibility that can only happen if people feel they can reflect and trust, and then find that they were right to do so.

If Taboos 2 till 8 are removed, the way is open for Taboo 1, the fear to speak up and ask for help, to be unnecessary and a thing of the past.

Charles Pace is a specialist in social policy.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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