On 8th April 2021, the second edition of Let’s Talk Abortion: The MMSA Debate was held online. Unlike last year’s edition, where the speakers for both sides of the topic were students, this year the speakers were from the NGOs: Doctors for Choice and Doctors for Life.
Representing Doctors for Choice were psychiatrist Dr. Chris Barbara and paediatrician Dr. Jamie Grech whilst representing Doctors for Life were medical researcher Profs. Pierre Schembri Wismayer and family doctor Dr. Nicola Micallef Straface. Michaela Zammit and Francesca Karlsson were the moderators.
A question was posed to one side and they were allowed to speak for 4 minutes, with the other group given a chance to rebut for another 4 minutes. The debate was quite complex and went on for more than 2 hours. It was well attended with over 150 participants present in the Zoom call and many more watching the debate on Facebook.
The main points of the debate are summarised below:
Profs. Schembri Wismayer opened the debate by praising Malta as a nation which has always defended the vulnerable and that the pro-life movement follows the same role: by providing a voice to the most vulnerable human life in the country. In his opinion, life begins at conception and he believes that most of us think in the same way. Otherwise we would not feel joy when we hear someone is pregnant.
Dr. Micallef Straface stated that in the cases of sexual assault, our anger should be directed at the rapist and not to the innocent life. By taking away an innocent life, justice is still not served. Abortions in this case are often rash decisions and ‘rash decisions are not always correct’. A better option would be to support the mother and provide better care. Moreover, abortions due to sexual assault are a minority. Most cases are due to socioeconomic reasons and this surely cannot be justified.
‘Rash decisons are not always correct.’– Dr. Nicola Micallef Straface
On the other hand, Dr. Barbara stated that an embryo and a fetus is not a person, rather they are the potential to become a person. As the Maltese law is right now, this potential trumps all of women’s issues and human rights. He also noted that studies have shown that most women felt relieved after an abortion and few reported a regrets. In a rebuttal to a point made by Doctors for Life that abortion has been linked to poorer mental health, he said that the studies which show this have been conducted in countries where abortion is stigmatised, much like ours. Moreover, abortions are still being conducted despite being illegal, which implicates there is a need to them and women should be guaranteed safe access to them. It is up to doctors ‘to get off the high horse and allow for bodily autonomy’.
‘It is up to doctors to get off the high horse and allow for bodily autonomy.’– Dr. Chris Barbara
Dr. Grech pointed out that just because certain cases e.g. of sexual assault are not common, it doesn’t mean they should be excluded from having the choice to take back control of their life. He also pointed out that just because backdoor abortions aren’t being done in Malta, it doesn’t mean that the abortions happening in Malta are safe. This is because the women are less likely to seek medical help following an abortion which may compromise her safety. He also stated that the criminalisation of abortion has made it a socioeconomic issue because poor women are unable to fly off and have a legal abortion elsewhere unlike other women who have these financial means.
Interestingly, both sides seem to agree on a couple of things. Firstly, abortion should be decriminalised. Until now, any abortion attempt can put the mother in jail for 3 years and the doctor performing it for 4 years. As of yet there have been no such cases, however the possibility still exists. Secondly, both organisations agree that improving access to contraception and comprehensive sexual education is key to eliminating the problem of unwanted pregnancy.
Whatever your position is, praise should be given to MMSA for organising the debate. It is a tough issue which must be discussed. You can watch it on this link: https://www.facebook.com/mmsa.scora/videos/3692079834247805