It is not black and white. Like many people, I am uncomfortable with the idea of abortion. No matter how hard I try to approach it objectively, I sometimes cannot help doubts and emotions from clouding my judgment.
I am confident, however, that if Malta is to have a healthy debate about abortion, we need to be objective, to delve deep into the subject to understand the issue at hand clearly and shake off any biases.
What struck me recently is the increase in anti-abortion posters on my Facebook newsfeed which try to trigger certain emotions in readers.
One day it might be a drawing of a foetus with a frightened expression, holding a string attached to the mother’s heart while sharp pincers are pointed towards it. On another day, it’s a meme of a smiling new born baby captioned: ‘it was legal to kill me’.
Whatever your beliefs are, everyone needs to stop sharing these posts… and here’s why.
1. It’s spreading disinformation
Those pincers being depicted are the product of illegal and unsafe abortions.
They are not the reality in countries where it is legal and women are given the psychological and medical care they need. Most terminations are administered medically with an abortion pill to induce a miscarriage. These pictures of back-alley abortions distort the already skewed understanding of legal terminations.
What’s more is that many of these images illustrate a fully developed baby. What the memes don’t say is that four out of five legal abortions in the UK are carried out under 10 weeks of gestation.
This is not to say that legal terminations are any more moral because they are cleaner, but if we are to have a proper debate about abortion, we need to base our arguments on facts and not a biased perception.
2. It’s threatening the well-being of women
There is the question of the rights of women vs. the rights of cells.
Yes, these cells may develop into a fully fledged human with their own rights, but at 10 weeks or under, it is debatable whether these cells should be considered a human. By showing us just the tip of the iceberg, these anti- abortion posters essentially favour the rights of cells over the well-being of a grown woman, without assessing the broader situation which may have led her towards the traumatic experience of having a termination.
In some circumstances, it may be considered ethical for a mother to have an abortion to defend herself from the danger to her mental or physical health that continuing with the pregnancy would cause.
Sometimes, women are sexually assaulted and while that alone is damaging enough, giving birth to their rapist’s child may be a step more than her mental health can take.
Other times, the pregnancy could be threatening the mother’s life. So even if we accept that the foetus is a person with a right to live, this doesn’t mean that all abortions are wrong.
3. There is total system failure
Women don’t get abortions for fun or because they are irresponsible.
They get them because they are at dead ends and do not see any viable alternatives. Unfortunately, abortions will happen whether they are legalised or not, but the way to reduce them is not through memes but by fixing a broken system.
We should turn our attention on making sure women have the necessary support they need so that an unplanned pregnancy is not the end of their education or career. So that men who impregnate women cannot simply walk away but instead take their fair share of responsibility in child rearing. So that women do not need large amounts of money and years in court to make fathers pay basic financial maintenance (to speak nothing of actual emotional support). We must accept the reality that law enforcement is weak, and a pregnancy in a situation of abuse is extremely dangerous and can make a woman remain trapped.
Correcting misconceptions about abortion is the first step towards a healthy debate.
The next step is exercising more mindfulness of the various reasons which push women towards terminating their pregnancy, and understanding that hate and shame have no place in this debate.