Whose big idea was it to discuss abortion, anyway?

A discernible popular movement has arisen to challenge the ‘taboo’ mentality surrounding abortion. Certainly not the outcome that Gift of Life wanted when it declared its unilateral, no-holds barred war on a tiny minority that had been hiding in the shadows.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the typically human trait of desperately wanting something you don’t have… only to realise, once you get it, that, well, maybe you didn’t want it all that much after all. Sometimes, you may even realise that it’s around the last thing you should ever have dreamed of wanting in the first place. So when you do get it in the end… it will be with more than just a hint of PANIC.
Entire mythologies/literary archetypes have been built on the foundation of that single human trait. How many classic legends or folk-tales involve characters who spent entire lifetimes searching for something… home, the truth, immortality, true love, world domination, etc… only to realise that they either had it all along, or it turns out to be something they live to regret acquiring?
Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Oedipus, King Midas, The Fisher King, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Wile E. Coyote and The Roadrunner (beep, beep!)… they’re all rooted in that same, basic human paradox.
To be fair, it may not even be uniquely human, either. Cats are known to behave in similar ways: yowling and scratching for a door to be opened… only to decide that they don’t actually want to go out (or come in) once you finally get off your arse and open it for them…
Now, it’s even spreading to countries and institutions. Just look at the UK and the EU, playing endless games of ‘she loves me, she loves me not’ (even when it’s pretty evident that they both hate each other’s guts)…
But in any case: I get the same feeling about Malta’s pro-life lobby today. For around 15 years now, organisations like Malta Life Network, Gift of Life, the Malta Pro-Life Coalition, etc., have done nothing but put the topic of abortion up for discussion onto the national agenda, time and time again.
They did it in letters to the papers; on TV discussion programmes; by ‘blacklisting’ politicians and candidates who were not ‘pro-life’ enough for their liking… and above all, by kick-starting a petition, around 2005, to entrench Malta’s total abortion ban in the Constitution. This, at a time when no one in this country was even remotely discussing things like ‘female reproductive rights’… except the Nationalist government of the day, which not only endorsed the GoL petition… but, astonishingly, even adopted it as one of its own key policy objectives.
Given that this came literally like a bolt from the blue – i.e., not in response to any actual lobby-group demanding the introduction of abortion, or anything even remotely similar – it was pretty obvious from day one that the PN only did it to put Alfred Sant’s Labour Party in the awkward position of having to seemingly ‘defend abortion’. (Note: I’ll leave you to work out for yourselves how spectacularly successful this strategy was in the long term…)
But there is an important flipside to that: in so doing, the government also practically forced us all to discuss abortion in this country. I myself even felt the need to go on TV – something I HATE doing – to lock horns with people like Paul Vincenti on Bondiplus. I know of others who felt just as strongly as myself, but (quite understandably) chose to keep their opinions to themselves… and this, too, was part of the overall strategy.
It’s not just Labour that finds it difficult to counter this form of extremism. In a country where the only pro-life argument seems to be: ‘If you disagree with me, you’re a murderer’… most rational, moderate people would simply choose to disagree in silence.
But while the PN had clear political motives, the NGOs and organisations involved did not. So it is unclear why they actually chose to steamroll ahead with a proposition that was only ever going to flush Malta’s tiny pro-choice minority out of the woodwork. Let’s face it: would I ever have gone on TV to talk about abortion … had this same lobby group not made such a herculean effort to force me to? Not in a million years…
Why would they even do such a thing, anyway… if their intention really was to prevent abortion from ever being legalised here? Couldn’t they see, as clearly as I could at the time, that this was only going to backfire severely?
Oh, I’m not suggesting any ulterior motives, if that’s what you’re thinking. No, I really do believe these organisations are the genuine article… they really are motivated by the fear of any form of discussion on abortion ever taking place here. And if they ended up accidentally triggering one themselves, I have no doubt it was purely unintentional; much like Oedipus ‘wanting to learn the truth’, only to find out that… yup, he really had murdered his father and shagged his own mother after all. Sometimes, it’s just better not to pry too deeply into certain things…
But still: like Oedipus, they blinded themselves to the inevitable consequence of their own actions. And it wasn’t just me who saw all this coming a mile away, either. Earlier, I mentioned Bondiplus; well, I remember an article written by Lou Bondi in The Times, under the headline ‘Abort it, now’, in which he made the same overall argument: i.e., that if you don’t want abortion to be discussed – because discussion is the most sure-fire way to ever ensure change – then DON’T BRING IT UP YOURSELVES. But hey, all this took place years ago, you might (rightly) be thinking. What has happened since?
For starters: over the past two or three years, enough pro-choice people have come crawling out of the woodwork – as a result, naturally, of the enormous success of the pro-lifers’ own strategy – to result in Malta’s first-ever, fully-fledged pro-choice lobby-group, consisting entirely of women (important point, that: previously, the only people to publicly declare themselves pro-choice were the likes of Emy Bezzina and John Zammit, both of the ‘Men’s Rights Association’).
This new lobby-group has made public demands for abortion to be legalised in four scenarios: rape, incest, threat to the mother’s health, and terminal impairment of the foetus. It has also joined forces with other NGOs, including the Malta Humanist Association, and the newly formed coalition has started an information campaign aimed at demystifying the topic altogether.
If this was not enough, a survey conducted by the University Student Council found that a scarcely believable 41.6% of students agree with abortion in at least some of the above-mentioned scenarios (with 19% agreeing with abortion in all circumstances).
Yes, granted, 41.6% is still a minority. But that, to me, is the real news value of that poll (and not, as the Times’ choice of headline indicates, ‘Majority of students oppose abortion’). Just a few years ago, a similar poll would have returned very different results. It would, let’s face it, the anti-abortion majority would have been as close to 100% as humanly possible…
And of that 41.6% again, the clear majority are women. It may still be on a small scale – university students, who represent only a fraction of Malta’s actual demographics – and I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the rest of the country remains as staunchly pro-life as ever.
But something epochal has undeniably happened in the last few years alone. People are clearly no longer intimidated by the chorus of ‘murderers’; and I might be going out on a limb here, but I suspect that even many pro-choice people are starting to tire of the endless, mindless hysteria.
There are, after all, perfectly rational (indeed, highly convincing) arguments against abortion, that do not rely only on misplaced sentimentalism and religious outrage. A lot of people I know who are equally against abortion, would much rather listen to sane, logical arguments than chest-thumping pontification – or even worse, outright death-threats – any day.
All the same, however: though still few in number, a discernible popular movement has arisen to at least challenge the ‘taboo’ mentality surrounding abortion. Now: do you honestly think that this is the sort of outcome that Malta Life Network, the Gift of Life Foundation, the Malta Pro-Life Coalition, etc., actually wanted… when they declared their unilateral, no-holds barred war on a tiny minority that had, until that point, been permanently hiding in the shadows?
Thankfully, for once I even don’t need to play the ‘I told you so’ card myself. Lou Bondì told you so, for crying out loud. And still, you didn’t listen. So don’t go crying to Lou Bondì (or me, either) when this ‘national discussion on abortion’ that you didn’t want to have – yet insisted on starting anyway – eventually goes in the only direction it can ever go…

Raphael Vassallo

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