Marlene Farrugia yesterday tabled a private members’ bill to remove “the procurement of a miscarriage” – that’s abortion – from the list of crimes in our laws. These are the last few weeks and months of Marlene Farrugia’s colourful Parliamentary career and she must have wanted to leave with a bang. She is probably looking to leave a political legacy if not a legal one, given that a law regulating abortion is a rather more complex exercise than decriminalisation, a fact she no doubt is entirely aware of.
As she must be aware that just because she proposed the bill does not mean it will ever make it to the floor of the House. As she must also be aware that her action yesterday will be perceived as heroic by some and positively demonic by many.
Whatever bubble your social media profile floats in, I have little doubt you’re being inundated right now with very strong, very emotional, very hardened and declaratory opinions on the subject.
I will not add to the radical, polarised and uncompromising declarations for a number of reasons.
Firstly – and there’s little ambiguity on this – because I’ve never been pregnant and never will be. Therefore, I feel, I am, by virtue of my sex, ineligible to impose my views on people who, unlike me, can be even potentially impacted by them.
There are women who think abortion should be allowed and women who think it shouldn’t. So there’s enough opinion around and my rationalisations, abstractions, intellectualisation, or self-indulgent empathy have nothing of use to add to the discussion. I’m not going to explain to women what they, for the fact alone that they are women, must know better than I.
Secondly, because I am genuinely afraid of this debate. That’s not because of whatever outcome it could lead to – whether that is the continuation of a ban or its lifting – but because of what the debate itself could do to this country.
Other substantially Catholic countries have gone through this, some two generations ago as in France and Italy, and some are fresh out of it like Ireland and Chile.
In some other countries the debate rages and the polarising turn that debate has taken tears at the fabric of what should be an educated, tolerant, compassionate society that takes its decision on the basis of ethics and science. Some of the posts on Facebook over the last 24 hours are straight out of the American ‘debate’, some might say cultural war, on the subject.
I’m not looking forward to more of that here. Especially because the lesson from America is that in certain polarised situation the matter has the potential of never really being resolved.
In certain contexts like France and Italy, the polarised debate on abortion largely settled after the law was introduced. In America, the matter is always there, like gun rights and those other cultural issues that no political and legal rationality appears to soothe for any length of time.
I rather suspect there is a good chance this country – like Poland right now – would choose the path of interminable strife and make this issue a permanent casus belli.
We’ll take any excuse to draw up barricades and this may be as good as any.
Thirdly, because though you might think differently about me, I am not necessarily keen on inflicting on everyone my opinions on every subject under the sun.
I do have an agenda and these abortion fireworks frustrate me because they create a wider distance between my agenda and what the country would rather talk about. I would rather talk about corruption, whilst the country debates marijuana. Of course, I respect the fact that marijuana is important for some people and I have to accept that my agenda has to compete with what the rest of the country has on its plate, or rolled up in a reefer as it were. But everyone fights for their corner and I fight for mine.
The abortion ‘debate’, such as it is likely to be, will be drawn out, largely unproductive at the very least until majorities coalesce around the idea, divisive and corrosive to alliances of otherwise like-minded people. It risks splitting asunder the thin bonds and confederations of people who could work and have erstwhile worked together on issues they and I cared about.
That’s why I rather expected Joseph Muscat to be pushing the abortion debate on the national agenda and he openly declared he meant to. Something else must be keeping him busy. Thankfully.
I am not criticising Marlene Farrugia for causing the distraction. It’s a democracy and people don’t get to be asked to talk about things I care about. They will speak about things they care about and that’s just the way it is.
Still, even for this, I can have some vain hopes and wide-eyed aspirations. I could wish for willingness to hear the other side by either side. I could wish for measured language that avoids misrepresentation and caricatures of the opposing view. I could wish for a discussion that relies on facts provided by science. I could wish for an assessment grounded in ethical and moral principles that are both unshakeable and kind. I could wish for politicians to talk less and listen more.
And above all, I could wish for the men to shut up and let the women talk. It’s not just that this is about their bodies. This is about their minds. They can handle this. The rest of us have had centuries owning, controlling, trading and teaching them like barely sentient chattel. Surely, we should be able to afford to keep ourselves two steps behind them on this one.