Disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s name is in the headlines again – but not for entanglement in corruption, but his open, head-scratching endorsement of abortion.
He is the latest in a line of seasoned politicians, which includes another former Prime Minister and an EU Commissioner, to come out in favour of legalising abortion when it’s not too risky to their careers.
Fresh from his resignation from parliament, Muscat, who is still possibly the most loved figure of the Labour Party, admitted that he would defy Malta’s draconian law on abortion if his pregnant daughter told him she did not want the baby.
Did it really take a dramatic departure from Castille in December to realise the law is causing such suffering to women, women that could be his own daughters?
Muscat is a privileged man. He has money and would surely support his daughters should they need an abortion. Many others don’t have the same financial and familial support. At worst, women risk ending up facing criminal court or mentally scarred, and in some cases even blocked from travelling.
Alfred Sant, another former Prime Minister, also boasts a long history of political power. And in his near 40-years in politics, Sant has only just brought the issue to the forefront of debate.
In March, the former-Prime-Minister-turned-MEP was notably the only Maltese MEP that voted in favour of a resolution in Brussels to protect women’s sexual and reproductive rights under threat during the pandemic.
Both sides of the abortion debate were surprised, and suddenly Sant was the anti-hero of the pro-choice movement. He told the Guardian that the issue wasn’t “a cut and dry” one and that even politicians admit in private that there are scenarios where abortion is justified.
In nearly four decades, in which he served as Labour Party leader, Prime Minister and MEP, this is the first time he decided that women’s bodily autonomy deserves a mention.
And while Labour Party politicians should be applauded for speaking out amid the blaring silence from the Opposition, with political clout like theirs, they should have and could have acted much, much earlier.
Even our former Equality Minister Helena Dalli kept quiet on abortion until her arrival in Brussels.
Before her appointment as EU Commissioner, Dalli had to pass a grilling by her colleagues at the Commission. Unsurprisingly, abortion was a hot point, because how can you herald equality for some groups, like the LGBTQ+ community, which Malta always prides itself on, when reproductive rights of half the population are ignored?
Suddenly, Dalli was forced to take a side. Cushioned by the European Union, she felt comfortable enough to say she’s pro-choice. She now makes it clear that all women deserve a right to “body autonomy”.
All these political figures were or are in positions of power to change or influence Malta’s abortion law if they wanted to. Not only did they consciously choose not to, they didn’t even stand up to try.
And while these political statements by Muscat, Sant and Dalli are a huge step for the pro-choice movement, it is not enough, and we shouldn’t applaud them as being courageous.
In the seven-year reign under Joseph Muscat, it seems that each victory for civil liberties came at the expense of corruption scandals.
It seems that our top-notch gay rights, protection for trans and non-binary folk and the introduction of IVF were used as a political strobe light to deflect the selling off of our public hospitals, our power station and the murder of a journalist under Joseph Muscat.
So why, after an embarrassing resignation in December, does Muscat feel so passionate about the cause? Could it be a coincidence?
Could it be a classic case of political spin? To shift focus away from the possible involvement of his former chief-of-staff and ministers’ in the death of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia (both of which were talking points in his latest interview with Mark Laurence Zammit)?
At least Alfred Sant put his political action where his words are and actually voted in favour of women’s health this year. Joseph Muscat’s and Helena Dalli’s statements hold as much weight as a towering castle made of sticks.
Dalli knows that the European Union can’t impose such a change in law.
These people have held top positions at some point in their careers. It is obvious then that some of their colleagues hold pro-abortion-legislation views too, but similarly, are too afraid to risk their careers for the cause.
Last year, at least 75 women broke Maltese law to terminate their pregnancies. This year, those numbers doubled. Each one of them could have been charged with hefty fines and prison sentences for seeking a procedure or pill that is deemed a universal right by major organisations like the WHO and the UN.
Women’s autonomy shouldn’t be used as political leverage.
If you are a closeted pro-choice politician reading this and are too afraid of the public backlash, take this as a sign. There are countless women left voiceless by the blanket ban on abortion and they deserve representation like every other citizen in Malta. They are counting on you to make a difference. Do not let them down.