The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

Abortion: We need and deserve a discussion

Friday, 12 April 2019, 13:26 Last update: about 5 months ago

Andrea Dibben

It has been a month since the launch of the first Maltese pro-choice coalition Voice for Choice and this week saw the completion of the social media campaign ‘30 days of abortion myths'.  This series of daily Q&A infographics presented facts and arguments on abortion from medical, legal, social and moral perspectives and has managed to give a taste of the various facets of this complex issue.

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Judging from the 180,000 people reached through the Facebook page and the overwhelmingly positive feedback, clearly it has filled a much-needed space, one that entices the reader to research and reflect further beyond the moral panic that usually accompanies any local discussion on abortion.

What I have learnt in this past month is that beyond the pro-choice and anti-abortion factions, there is an increasingly large segment of people who are not satisfied with the polarising, dogmatic discourse which has thus far framed the issue. These ‘concerned centrists’ crave safe spaces for dialogue, without fear of being shouted down as 'murderers' on the one hand or 'close-minded dinosaurs' on the other.

Such individuals might believe that abortion is morally wrong and should be a last resort but also understand that there may be circumstances when it is necessary.  They may not be comfortable with legalising abortion ‘on demand’ but are not happy with the current situation where women are criminalised.    Raised in Maltese society and educated in Maltese schools, they are now becoming increasingly aware that they have been short-changed by our politicians, our institutions and our educators, who have always sought to shut down any attempt at rational discussion. 

This point brings me to His Excellency’s statement on abortion which is typical of how this country has so far addressed this highly controversial subject.  Welcoming a debate while declaring point blank that abortion is murder and stating that he would not sign any law in this regard, completely ignoring all the fine nuances in between a simple yes or no is contradictory.  The President’s idea of discussion consists of convincing young people, albeit rationally, why they should not enter a room with a faulty beam but what he calls 'discussion' is nothing short of indoctrination. 

His analogy is particularly fallacious because he presumes and concludes that there is in fact a faulty beam without having ever examined it.  Discussion would mean analysing and evaluating the possibility of a faulty beam, acknowledging that there is no consensus that the beam is actually faulty. Even if there was irrevocable proof that the beamwas faulty, a discussion would not stop at convincing young people not to enter the room, but would explore ways on how to support the beam, and how to minimise risk knowing full well that some would still choose to do so.

The President's stance resonates with the type of education that we all received on abortion.  Instead of being presented with objective medical facts, diverse legal approaches, different philosophical arguments  that are not limited to one dogma and the realities of women’s stories, instead of engaging learners  in critical thinking and discussion which are so crucial for moral decision making, generations of young people got ‘The Silent Scream’, aimed at convincing them on the ‘horrors of abortion’as the totality of their education on the subject.

Abortion is not an easy conversation to have, it is an issue marked with pain, shame, anger and confusion.  Within Maltese society it is a conversation that all too often is shut down or couched in polarising opinions that create no space to explore the middle ground, to hear different voices and to sit with this discomfort within a supportive environment.  We need and deserve a discussion. We need to argue in a sensible manner. We need to hear narratives with an open and receptive mind and heart, and we need to stop being judgemental. These are the lessons and reflections that I will carry with me in the coming months of Voice for Choice.

 

Dr Andrea Dibben, PhD  is a social policy academic and Chairperson of Women’s Rights Foundation, one of the founding organisations in Voice for Choice

 

 

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