Pro-choice and "pro-life" movements: They are not polar opposites
The pro-choice and anti-abortion (so called “pro-life”) movements are often erroneously portrayed and perceived as having extreme and polarised views. This is misleading and incorrect. Whilst it is true that there are those who are in favour and those against abortion being legal, the implications of these alternative laws are not direct opposites. Consequently, the public rhetoric on abortion is not strictly a debate between two fronts with purely opposing views:
The anti-abortion movement takes an extreme and dictatorial position opposing abortion in all circumstances which forces women to carry unwanted or complicated pregnancies. It supports a total legal ban which effectively means that the political and legislative system imposes and dictates a certain moral belief on those who may need to access abortions for different reasons (without exception). The movement turns a blind eye or downright shames and labels those who access abortions as "murderers".
N.B. The main anti-abortion network in Malta also supports imprisonment of women who have carried out abortions, recommends medically unproven and potentially dangerous methods such as “abortion reversal”, and opposes the use of contraceptives. LifeNetwork is also part of Agenda Europe, a dangerous international organised network with a mission to overturn existing laws on basic human rights related to sexuality and reproduction; this includes actively working against equality for LGBT+ people, the right to divorce, and access to contraception, IVF, and abortion.
On the other hand, the pro-choice movement supports a change in the Maltese legislation which values and respects the position of those who may need to access abortions as well as those whose personal view and moral stance opposes abortion. Therefore, this movement does not hold an extreme view and does not impose personal views on others in any way. Evidently, it is not the opposite of the extreme and dictatorial anti-abortion movement.
N.B. The pro-choice movement abides by recommendations of the most reputable medical and human rights organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. This movement regards sex education, contraception and abortion access to be crucial for health and social well-being. Abortion should be administered by health policy (not criminal law) and women who have had abortions should never be imprisoned or criminalised.
It is very unfortunate that there are local medical doctors supporting LifeNetwork, even though it opposes the use of contraceptives and recommends an unproven and potentially dangerous method such as “reversal of medical abortion”. It is also deeply concerning that the government is funding such an organisation. People who are in difficult social circumstances but wish to carry on with their pregnancy should certainly be getting support, but it is unacceptable that this is done by funding an organisation with far-right extremist views.
Most of the local public conversation on abortion in the past has been driven by emotive sensationalist comments and misleading illustrations from the anti-abortion side. Consequently, there is very little constructive and critical debate. Some may very well be against abortion in principle based on their own personal moral values. But when it comes to determining what others can and cannot do, and therefore legislation, are you comfortable imposing these personal beliefs onto others who see things differently on such a complex and very personal matter that has a direct effect on our health and lives? Is this form of moral absolutism the right approach? There is an innate tendency in everyone to perceive their own moral beliefs as superior to those of others, which makes us prone to try and impose those same beliefs, without acknowledging that others’ views are equally valuable and need to be respected. This is especially important when it comes to the very personal subject that is abortion. The pro-choice stance, as opposed to the anti-abortion stance, does away with bias and imposition, allowing everyone to develop and have their own position on abortion.
The discussion about the moral aspect of abortion is very important for every person to learn, reflect and be able to form their own opinion, especially because any mention of abortion in Malta prior to recent years has been one-sided and propagandistic. However, stopping there will not do much to inform and ameliorate our legislative system. The moral debate dates back many years and there is no single definitive answer to this conundrum as we all have divergent views on this subject. Historically, even Catholic theologians’ views have been pluralistic and did not ignore the moral complexities of abortion (with some prominent Catholics who went on to become saints agreeing that it is permissible in certain circumstances). Therefore, the central question at the core of legislative reform should not be about whether abortion is morally right or wrong (as this will always remain a very personal matter), but should instead focus on whether the current law is adequate and equitable.
Abortion is a procedure that has proven to be an essential part of reproductive healthcare and its lack of accessibility clearly has dire consequences on the health and lives of pregnant people (as stated by the WHO and other reputable medical institutions that are major guiding bodies in practically all other aspects of our health). The United Nations also regards prohibition and criminalisation of abortion as a human rights violation. Clearly, Malta’s law denying abortion access in all circumstances is nowhere near adequate or equitable!
By Dr Gilbert Gravino