What is the role of the State and the politicians who govern it? I believe it is to ensure that all citizens are able to lead successful lives in which they can contribute to their community rather than ending up a burden on society.
Whenever they are faced with an opportunity to create a fairer society, our lawmakers should seize it. They should always seek to fix injustices and give people more control over their futures. The current debate surrounding abortion is one such instance.
Today, some people have more control over their lives than others.
Men, for example, are able to decide when to raise children. If they wish to walk away from a pregnancy, they can. At most, they can be forced by our courts to contribute financially to their offspring, but if they wish they can abandon the rearing of children and focus on their own careers with little consequence otherwise.
This is a luxury also enjoyed by women who have the financial independence to do so. They can travel abroad to have an abortion and continue to focus on the pursuit of their own happiness, able to start a family when the time is right for them.
Also privileged are the children born of parents who are ready to have them. They get to be showered with love and empowered with dignity. They get access to education, healthcare and prospects.
Then there are the less fortunate among us. Not all women have control over their futures. Women who are not financially independent (or who find themselves unable to travel such as if they are very young or living in a pandemic) do not have the luxury of choosing when to radically change their lives and start a family. If they are forced to get pregnant, such as through rape or abusive relationships, they are forced to put their lives on hold. They must carry that child to birth and in most cases take responsibility for their children long after birth.
This often creates another injustice: children who are born of parents who do not want them. These often do not get the same opportunities of the more privileged. They are placed in institutions, which despite their best intentions often fail to provide the same quality of love and care that other children enjoy. And the more children born into this reality, the harder it is for the State to provide for them.
In the category of those who have less control over their lives, one cannot fail to mention the unborn. These have perhaps the least privilege of all. Their mothers, if financially independent, can abort them at any moment in almost any country in the world. If not, they can be abused within the womb, such if their mothers abuse alcohol, tobacco or drugs during pregnancy. In some cases they may also be frozen, by well-meaning couples who desperately want to give them a life but may need medical interventions to do so. Some of the unborn will also end their journey naturally before they are born, ending up with the same fate as the sperm and eggs that never succeed in joining together to form viable life.
And even if they are lucky enough to be born, children still have no guarantee that they will be cared for, let alone given the privilege to lead happy and wholesome lives in which they have equality of opportunity or agency over their futures.
Faced with all of these realities, what is the role of the State and legislators? In my view, they should seek to minimize harm and suffering, and maximize the chances of as many people as possible to lead empowered lives where they can become contributors to their community.
What will the introduction of laws regulating abortion in Malta achieve? Firstly, it would allow women – who are already born – to have control over their futures, regardless of their financial situation. Secondly, it would ensure that the children who are born will have a better chance to compete for the State resources that could give them happy and healthy lives. More of those who are lucky enough to be born will have a chance to be adopted by willing parents who wish to give them the care they deserve.
Of course, it may also mean that more of the unborn will be terminated before ever breathing life.
In this delicate balance, our politicians seem to have made a choice. Their choice is to give as much protection as possible to the unborn and as little control as possible to those who are already living and breathing. Our politicians argue that they do this because the unborn are more vulnerable and therefore more deserving of protection. But in doing so they perpetuate a similar injustice between the rich and the poor.
The poor – who if we follow the argument of our politicians, deserve more protection – are afforded less control of their futures and this often results in them becoming poorer. They are burdened with unplanned parenthood, especially if they are women. And in the cases of the children themselves, they are burdened with unwilling or absent parents. This often results in harm for the rest of society.
Parents who are forced to raise children they do not want or cannot take care of often become burdens on the State, or else they place the burden of child-rearing on the State, sometimes with detrimental consequences as these children may grow up feeling abandoned and alienated from their society.
In almost every other country in the world, politicians have over time come to the conclusion that the best balance for society is achieved by allowing safe access to abortion, within regulated limits. This ensures that parents who want to become parents can get the privilege of doing so, even if that requires extra medical and financial support from the State. And children who are brought into our society are similarly given the best chances they can be given to thrive.
In Malta, our politicians have come to a different conclusion so far. They have not really explained why. They have not provided any evidence that their decision has led to a more equitable or successful society. They say it is a matter of principle and of conviction – regardless of the consequences. And more recently they have said it is not their job to re-examine a law passed 160 years ago.
This effectively renders our politicians obsolete. If it is not their role to make society fairer and more successful by ensuring legislation is up-to-date, or to explain how the law they defend is in fact being effective, whose is it? Could it be that in a country that pays a disproportionate amount of taxpayer money to have so many legislators, none feel capable of adding any value to this topic?
Well, one of them has. Marlene Farrugia has drafted a Bill and tabled it for discussion – unsurprisingly one of the few women in our Parliament. The least the rest of our legislators could do is discuss it. But even that seems to be too much to ask.
Farrugia, who herself has always identified as pro-life, is simply asking for the country to stop criminalizing women and doctors who reach the conclusion that abortion is their only option, even in the case where the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or the unborn life is unviable and will only live for a few hours outside of the womb. Even here our politicians would prefer to have an ancient law on paper that they either cannot or choose not to enforce than to provide any legal comfort to these people.
It is clear, from their reaction, that the vast majority of our elected legislators are not worthy of their positions. They are afraid to even have a discussion, despite this being the job they are elected and paid to do. Perhaps their biggest fear is that if they do legislate in this area, we will have an empowered society that will have the time to realise that our political class regularly indulges in the dereliction of their duty.
Unlike women in Malta, our politicians have a choice. They can either take this discussion to a viable conclusion, or they can abort it. Ironically, they are choosing to abort it. And by doing so, they are telling the rest of us, that we should probably not continue to afford them the privilege of being legislators.
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