The Malta Independent 18 October 2021, Monday

The abortion debate: some demographic considerations

Simon Mercieca Monday, 8 January 2018, 07:50 Last update: about 5 years ago

Two colleagues of mine, Giovanna Da Molin and Angela Carbone from the University of Bari published, in 2010,  a book entitled Gli Uomini , il Tempo e la Polvere Fonti e Documenti per una storia demografica italiana (secc. XV-XXI). The book has an anthropomorphic title which in English would  read People, Time and Dust: Sources and Documents for the Study of Italian Demography (XV-XXI centuries). The multi-disciplinary approach adopted by the authors is extremely pertinent to the current debate on abortion. Like most demographers, they are not at all comfortable with the rate of demographic growth in Europe. Current statistics give a gloomy picture.

Europe is in front of a demographic crisis. This time round, the crisis is not being caused by epidemics, but by our sexual mores. The European rate of fertility is extremely low.  In the past, the high mortality rates were counter-balanced by an even higher fertility rate. This allowed the European population to grow. Now that the mortality rate has plummeted, there has been an even bigger drop in the birth rate with the result that the so-called European population is shrinking drastically. Both Da Molin and Carbone refer to a report published in 2007 which gives some shocking results. The fertility rate in Italy and Germany was registered at 1,37.  Malta and Portugal was lower at 1,33. Yet, there were other countries with even lower rates; Poland’s was at 1,31 and Romania at 1,30. The lowest was Slovakia with 1,25. With these low figures, demographic experts are now speaking about a second demographic transition. In other words, the demographic change is not only conditioned by the sexual behaviour of couples but it is now being conditioned by other factors.

The fertility rate reported for Malta in 2015 by the Eurostat was 1.42. If these figures are to be correct, between 2007 and 2015, there has been an increase in fertility in our country. In Italy, the fertility rate continued going down.

My friend from Sardinia, Gian Luca Medas shared with me some interesting demographic statistics  published by Istat, the Italian agency for statistics, regarding demographic trends in Italy for 2015. These statistics are extremely pertinent to the current debate about abortion in Malta.

In 2015, there were 488 thousand births in Italy. This figure means that Italy had 15 thousand fewer births than in 2014. This is  the lowest number reached in Italy since the Unity of Italy in 1861. Births continued to decrease in Italy in the following years.  In terms of fertility, which is the calculation of the number of babies born to fertile women, Italy had a rate of 1.35. This figure means that the rate of fertility continued to decrease after 2007. More importantly, the average age at which mothers gave birth had gone up to 31.6 years. The number of deaths amounted to 653 thousand. This meant an increase of 54 thousand over 2014. The rate of mortality was equal to 10,7 per thousand. This was the highest rate of mor tality to be registered in Italy since the end of the Second World War.

As abortion in Italy is legal, such statistics are extremely interesting and extremely pertinent for the current debate in Malta. In 2015, the number of abortions in Italy totalled 87.639. This is quite a high figure. Clearly, abortions are contributing to Italy’s decrease in population. But such a figure is meaningless, unless it is not linked to a social class analysis. It is here where the analysis becomes extremely interesting. The majority of women who had an abortion came from the working classes. They accounted for 42% of the total number of abortions. The rest were divided as follows: 21% were unemployed women. Another 22% were women in search of a job. Housewives were those who were the least to seek an abortion: they amounted only to 2%. The remaining 10% were students. Then, there was another 3% which covered the rest of the different social categories.

Thus, if one has to try to figure out these numbers, it appears clearly that unwanted pregnancies, rapes and human rights are not the main issue. Abortion in Italy is linked mainly to the economy. While one cannot exclude the fact that an undesired pregnancy can be present throughout all social categories, issues of social shame are the least important for seeking an abortion. Perhaps, the category most affected by this issue is that of students. These statistics shows that abortions in Italy are mostly sought by women in the low income bracket or who lack a fixed job or do not have a job at all.

These abortion figures need to be further studied in relation to the challenging statistics that the average age of working pregnant mothers is increasing. This continues to confirm that the major cause for abortion in Italy today is the bad economy and working conditions created by neo-liberalism. In simple terms, abortion today is needed to provide a safety valve for bad social and economic policies, whose victims are - as always - women.  

With such a low fertility and high number of abortions, where abortions amount to about 18% of all the total Italian births in 2015, immigration becomes a demographic necessity. Most of the migrants in Italy are refugees. They are now filling the demographic gap created by low fertility, high mortality and a high rate of abortions. In 2015, 150,317 refugees arrived in Italy. Only a small proportion were political refugees. At least only 25 thousand asked for political asylum.  

Then the emigration figures continue to sustain the argument that the major cause for abortion in Italy is linked to a bad economic situation. In 2015, 107.529 Italians migrated. This figure was 10 thousand more than that of the previous year. By the end of December 2015, there were about 5 million Italian nationals living outside Italy. Normally, mobility is a positive factor, but in this circumstances, Italy has nothing to be cheerful of. In 2015, the Italian mobility increased by 54,9%. This means that mobility went up by 3.7% over the previous year. In actual terms, this means that one Italian in 12 is today a migrant.

One could be tempted to think that these depressive figures reflect the liquid modernity advocated by Zygmunt Bauman. The truth is that the debate has now become synonymous with a civilization that has become impervious to its real problems. Malta too is becoming a microcosm of this dying European civilization. It is a Europe that is paying for its own funeral. These demographic figures from Italy continue to confirm that women are always the victims in times of economic malaise.

Despite all the Labour laws, the truth is that employment in Malta today is more precarious than in the past, and this festive season has shown that those on the margin of society are increasing and not decreasing in number. What is not being stated is that women are more at risk than their male counterparts to fall in the wayside. If this analysis is correct, abortion in Malta is going to be a must and not an option. It would have to be introduced to sustain an economic model despite its disastrous demographic consequences.


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