Abortion and a spot of shopping

Published: May 30, 2010 at 10:40pm

Abortion tourism has long been a feature of life in Malta, but with the price of air travel collapsing and catching a plane now only a little more momentous than catching a bus, the numbers were bound to pick up.

Britain’s Department of Health keeps meticulous records of abortions performed in that country and releases the figures every year, together with the citizenship – but obviously not the names – of the women who had the procedure. So every year we get to know how many Maltese women had abortions in Britain. In 2009, there were 78, the highest figure ever.

Other countries do not keep or release similar statistics, so we cannot know just how many Maltese women have abortions in neighbouring mainland Italy or even more convenient Catania in Sicily.

Those destinations may be more popular for Maltese abortion tourism, because they are closer and perhaps they are seen to be culturally similar – in which case we would have to reckon for a higher figure than 78.

But I suspect – and this is just a gut feeling – that Britain is the destination of choice for Maltese abortion tourists, because we are far more familiar with the British medical system, far more comfortable with it, and regard it as more reliable.

Also, because of Malta’s reciprocal agreement with Britain in the field of medical care, we take it for granted that those who require special treatment which cannot be obtained here will go to England and get it there. And there’s the best bit of all, which instantly appeals to the thrifty and economical Maltese character: if you’re Maltese, then you can use Britain’s National Health Service free of charge, and that includes abortions.

Ordinarily, I might see this as yet another reason to scoff at the Maltese passion for a good freebie and freeload, but I can’t and I won’t. It is bad enough that abortion in Malta is only available to the privileged: those who can afford the journey to London, or the cheaper journey to Catania where the procedure does not come free. If there is some way that the costs can be cut, then so be it.

What these figures tell us is that it’s pretty pointless banning something in Malta when that something is freely and legally available everywhere else in Europe except Poland and Ireland, where access remains highly restricted. If people can’t get something here in Malta, then they will go outside Malta and get it there, without breaking any laws. But they must have the money.

In 1984, it was toothpaste, pasta and abortion. Now it’s just abortion.

The main purpose of Malta’s ban on abortion is now purely symbolic: ‘this is what we stand for’. But there is a secondary purpose: to stop poor people, and women who are financially dependent on uncooperative third parties, from having one. Nothing can be done about the Maltese women with access to a few hundred euros.

They can get an abortion whenever they like.

Perhaps at this stage we can also stop dreaming and fantasising. Yes, it would be terrific if every woman who got pregnant were to have and keep her child. But it’s just not going to happen, not when abortion is a hop, skip and a ride away, giving women the more humane option of early-stage termination rather than abandonment of a real, live baby.

I know that many, especially men, will never understand that this is how lots of women see it – that it is kinder and certainly much less traumatic to abort a life at the few-cells stage than to set their own flesh and blood adrift on an uncertain sea without them – but this is how it really is.

I should qualify that, probably: it would be terrific if every woman who got pregnant were to have and keep her child happily and well. But we know this isn’t ever going to happen, which is why our children’s homes are overburdened and our social workers are sinking under pressure.

The saddest irony of it all is that the Maltese women who are paying for trips to London to have abortions there are the very ones who have the means and the education to raise their babies well – except that it would interrupt their life and take it in a different direction to their plans.

Meanwhile, the ones who absolutely can’t pay for a bit of abortion tourism are those whose babies are condemned to misery, beaten and neglected in deprivation or dumped in an institution and not given up for adoption for the very reason that I have described here: that it is easier to terminate a pregnancy or to put a child in an institution than to sign the papers which mean that you will never be part of that child’s life again.

Has the ban on abortion added to the greater sum of human happiness in Malta? I should think not. Going by the misery childcare workers have to contend with on a daily basis, it has to be said of some children that it would have been better had they not been born at all.

They are among the first to say the same.

Among all the stern black-and-white arguments of the Great Abortion Debate, one large grey area remains, the unspoken elephant in the room.

What is more immoral – to allow a woman to terminate a pregnancy in its initial stages, or to allow her to reject the child at birth or at any stage thereafter, while at the same time retaining rights over it, dumping it in an institution for 18 years of deprivation from family life, love and normality?

This article was published in The Malta Independent last Thursday.

16 Comments Comment

  1. anton borg says:

    Sounds sensible in principle, but you’re forgetting a couple or three other elephants.

    a) the “thin end of the wedge” principle- the UK legalised abortion in 1967 to keep approximately 11000 women out of the hands of the back street abortionists.

    Last year there were 190,000 or so, of which only some 5% were carried out for “medical” reasons (and some of these are pretty dodgy- eg webbed toes and hare lips).

    b) At what gestation is abortion to be limited to? There is excellent evidence to demonstrate foetal awareness as early as 10-11 weeks.

    c) It has been stated for years that women agonise over the decision; well, that is certainly true for the majority, but I have listened to some pretty extraordinary reasons in my consulting room (I have been a GP in UK for some 25 years): “I have bought a new car”, “I like my holidays”, “I have a right to demand anything I wish of you”. Real cases every one. And there have been several others too.

    Incidentally, abortion is the one situation in the west were society deliberately destroys healthy human life.

  2. Joseph A Borg says:


    Nun Excommunicated For Allowing Abortion

    a 27-year-old woman… 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child, and gravely ill. According to a hospital document, she had “right heart failure,” and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was “close to 100 percent.”

    … The patient, who was too ill to be moved to the operating room much less another hospital, agreed to an abortion. But there was a complication: She was at a Catholic hospital…

    Regarding abortion choice:
    I’m sure it’s an exception, but there are those who have valid medical reasons to choose an abortion, including testing for a fetus that has microcephaly or severe deformities. Might be ethically dubious but not so black and white.

    I believe (hope?) it’s much better to educate on proper sexual conduct (condoms and other contraceptives) and offer Plan B for those whose head doesn’t know what the rest of their body’s doing. Some girls should be advised and encouraged to get subcutaneous contraception…until their hormones settle and they can take better decisions…

    I’m flabbergasted at the lightheartedness with which many choose to abort…even late term.

  3. JM says:

    I do not agree with you on this point here. We should not legalise abortion because our system is burdened, but in that case the sensible solution would be to invest and improve the system.

  4. This is one of the few subjects that I don’t agree with you. I’m not condemning any woman who opts for an abortion. I can understand the panic many of them must feel.

    So the child who is unwanted can end up being dumped in an institution. However if the mother doesn’t regularly visit it and shows no interest in the child, the child can be considered abandoned and given up for adoption without the mother’s signature.

    [Daphne – No, that’s not the case at all, and it’s one of the great tragedies. The consent of both parents is required, but that when the father is registered.]

    Maybe we’ll soon have a NGO that provides impoverished women with a few hundred euro to pay for a low cost flight to the UK and a few nights stay. They could also provide all the info necessary.

  5. lamp says:

    A few days ago I participated in a discussion related to the Holy Host. In that blog you had rightly argued that if one wants to stay in a particular club, then one should abide by its rules.

    One of the rules that govern this country is that abortion is illegal. If one does not want to abide by the rules then there are options.

    I have no hesitation to state that I am in principle against abortion. Having said that I do acknowledge that there are some awfully awkward cases where it is very difficult to argue against it but I trust that many of the abortions carried out would not fall under this category. Most women abort for socio-economic reasons.

    In an age where education and preventive conception control are fairly easily available, in my opinion the country should do more to prevent the conception of unwanted children rather than to encourage the murder of an innocent conceived life.

    There is no need to condemn women who abort their children. Most of them go through hell before and after and condemnation is the last thing they would need. What I do condemn in general is people who actively seek to profit on the misfortunes of others.

    • R. Camilleri says:

      I don’t think it is quite the same thing. Using that logic, nothing in this country should ever change. If you didn’t like rampaging and sacking back in the 80s, you should have left the country. If you don’t like the roads, go somewhere else.

      The reason that that logic works in the whole Eucharist debate is that if you really want to screw around with someone you are not wedded to, you are only a member of that club in name and nothing else.

      [Daphne – The comparison of the state with a religion is a false one.]

  6. Mini-Tiananmen square says:

    What about the “don’t worry, if you get pregnant we’ll get an abortion” attitude?

  7. Chris II says:

    “if you’re Maltese, then you can use Britain’s National Health Service free of charge, and that includes abortions.”

    I think that one this point you are wrong. The agreement between the Maltese and British Govt for treatment abroad is not “free”. It is paid by Govt and for one to avail oneself of such a treatment, one has to be referred by the Maltese authorities and for particular conditions and abortion is not one of them.

    The British NHS is also free for EU citizens carrying the EU entitlement card – but this is only valid for urgent conditions.

    Anything else, has to be paid for – so these 78 (2% of the total pregnacies, less than 1 in 1000 women when compared to the British 12.4 per 1000) have paid the full fee.

  8. Kurt Mifsud Bonnici says:

    This will always be a sensitive subject that divides the nation but I at least liked the way you concluded your article, i.e., stating that the difficulty is choosing which is the lesser evil rather than stating that abortion is a “good” thing.

    • R. Camilleri says:

      Indeed. The debate often revolves around having nice happy children or aborting them.

      It should revolve around the choice between having unwanted, unloved children who will probably face a lot of hardship in their lives and not having them at all. These are the children who will probably be neglected, uncared for, be sick, not be given a decent education, etc.

      That would change the perception of what is more cruel I think.

      P.S. Just to clarify, I myself don’t really know what my position on abortion is, so I am not trying to promote it here. However I am fairly convinced that the “life begins at conception” argument is rather rubbish. Even more rubbish is the “potential person” argument. I am just pointing out here that it is not a simple good vs evil matter.

      • Josh Briffa says:

        I agree completely. The sadder thing is that teenage students are taught that this is the case, as if it were a fact. In ethics, a topic in philosophy A level and intermediate, the textbook used (which is written by a priest, please note), uses both the “potential person vs person with potential argument” and the “life begins at conception” argument to back it up.

        I really think that when discussing a topic such as this, one ought to make a distinction between a human being and a person. The flaw in this kind of logic is that the idea that life begins at conception is used as an axiom ( a self evident truth) upon which the whole argument is then built, made even more complicated with the notion of the “human soul”. Of course, it is not an axiom at all, but an opinion.

        I personally believe that human life does begin at conception, but personhood does not.

        Then it only boils down to the fact of how much value you actually ascribe to this human life. A harsh example would be to compare the value you give to a stray dog, and the value you would give to your pet dog. Although they belong to the same species, they do not have the same amount of value in a person’s eyes. A harsh comparison, I know, but that’s all I could think of.

        Still, the fact that the state actually “models” the worth or value of pre-embryonic and embryonic life to it’s citizens does not mean that all the citizens will share this belief, mostly due to the fact that when it actually happens to them, they give their life and the “control over their future” more value than the pre-embryonic life inside of them.

        Therefore, whether the state wants it or not, there is still choice, and choice is being given a price-tag, as some can afford it, while others can’t.

  9. LG says:

    I believe that the point here is not whether one agrees with abortion or not, or how one would handle an undesired pregnancy themselves. The point is that a secular state should not be motivated by purely moral or religious values, but by what is in the interest of its citizens.

    In Italy, where I live, abortion is legal. However it can be carried out only within certain perimeters and in line with very rigid procedures. Very few Italian women opt to go to a private clinic for an abortion, most have it done in state hospitals. This means that they receive proper counselling and psychological assistance.

    In this way the woman (often a child herself) is made aware of the true reasons behind her decision and that she is not resorting to an abortion for reasons which she would later regret such as, for example, pressure from the parents which, I understand, is often the case in Malta.

    An obstetrician I met here told me that from her experience only a minority of women who walk into hospital seeking an abortion, actually end up having one.

    The same goes for the UK. A person I know, who got pregnant at 16, received incredible help from the local social services, to whom she was initially referred by the state hospital where she had sought an abortion. The social assistant explained all the options open, and the material and psychological support which the girl could avail of.

    Based on the new information available to her, the girl decided to have the baby. In the meantime the mother was also assisted to finish her studies and eventually obtained a university degree, while keeping her child.

    There was no way that a 16 year old girl would ever have been aware that she could have actually had a life “after the baby” and of the options open to her had she not been referred to a social assistant by the hospital, where she had originally gone to rid herself of a “problem”.

    [Daphne – It is actually impossible to have a life after a baby at the age of 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, whatever, unless you also have parents who are on hand not in the role of grandparents but of ‘extended parents’, with everything that means, including paying bills, buying things and the rest. I know somebody who had a baby at 17 and whose life and development were arrested – she had hoped to train in a particular field where she had considerable talents – because her mother, still in her late 30s and separated from her husband, worked and had an active social life and a series of man-friends to attend to, while her father was a complete and utter unreliable loser.]

    I sincerely doubt that this sort of counselling can be given to foreign women, including Maltese woman seeking to interrupt a pregnancy in an EU hospital. No EU state can possibly get into assisting a woman in difficulty if she is not a citizen of that same state, if only for lack of available information.

    I also imagine that Maltese women would normally go to private clinics which, of course, are primarily moved by economical considerations.

    Maltese women are therefore in a somewhat more desperate situation than their European counterparts. Nobody is bothering to offer them guidance, counselling or assistance by trying to understand their background and why they are resorting to ending their pregnancy. They are left completely on their own , often battling with a hostile family and with a place ticket in hand. This I find to be very sad indeed.

    Finally, I really do not think that any woman decides to terminate a pregnancy with a light heart, or simply in order to avoid using contraceptives. I believe that in any case this is a traumatic life changing decision which requires all the help and support possibly available.

  10. Iro says:

    My personal moral code does not permit me to support, actively or passively, any process aimed at introducing abortion into Malta or assist anyone to obtain one.

    Surely it makes more sense to change the legislation that permits parents to dump the infant in an institution and block any adoption process so that they can still collect benefits.

    Here I am not talking about temporary situations where the parent/s, because of illness or other transient ill fortune, are unable to care properly for their children for some time but those who, as was described above, are truly abandoned.

    I cannot agree with those women who believe that ‘it’s my body and I do as I please’ as, except in rape, sexual intercourse is entered to willingly and if an unwanted pregnancy results then it’s not too much to ask for her to carry the new life to term and if the infant is still unwanted, put the child up for adoption.

    As for the ‘morning after’ pill, from what I am reading, I believe it will become legally available locally and so creating a solution for rape cases, contraceptive failure and the ‘God, what got into me last night’ situations.

  11. Not Tonight says:

    If Malta, Ireland and Poland were the only countries where children are mistreated, then I could give some credit to this article. This is clearly not the case however.

    I also question the ‘few cells’ dismissal of early human life. By the time the girl realises she might be pregnant, takes the test, makes a decision and has the procedure, the foetus has definitely progressed beyond the ‘few cells’ and is already very humanoid in form.

    I’m sorry but I cannot possibly look my son in the eye and tell him that I had any right to end his life!

    The way forward is to tackle child abuse and neglect harshly enough for it to become a deterrent through strict legislation. Parents who are caught mistreating their children should be shorn of any rights over them.

    We cannot punish an unborn child by taking away his life just because his mother is incapable of being a nurturer and provider. It’s like saying, “let’s kill all the vulnerable members of society so thieves and murderers have no one to target!”

  12. claire belli says:

    I think that an abortion at the very early stages of pregnancy could be a positive.

    Children who were refused buy their parents and were given for adoptions, will feel refused and wanted for ever, no matter how much the adoptive parents love them.

    A mother who gives a baby away will never stop thinking of the child she has abandoned till the day she dies, which is a constant torture for this lady. (I am not saying that a woman wouldn’t also think of the baby she has aborted).

    And not to forget the bullying and abuses children suffer in most of the orphanages.

    An Italian lawyer told me that her husband who is a magistrate and deals very frequently with cases involving child abuse would prefer to see a child being brought up by a gay couple rather than in an orphanage. In most cases children live in hell.

  13. Steve says:

    TLC Singer Chilli Describes Abortion Grief: ‘I Cried Almost Every Day for 9 Years’


    [Daphne – Well, we all know women who cried every day after having a baby, not an abortion. But that’s no argument against having one, is it? And what about all the stresses and strains of actually raising them – much of which involves tears before bedtime (the parents’) until the age of 18 and beyond?]

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