FEMFACTS
13 Jun 2019

Trying to get an abortion? Just wait half a year and give the government the baby instead

When Malta's main opposition party seized the momentum in recent European parliamentary elections to support the already strict abortion ban, it seemed like the last word on this issue. Then the Democratic Party had an idea.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Malta
Trying to get an abortion? Just wait half a year and give the government the baby instead - NewsMavens
Dolls, PixaBay

After signing a pledge to solidify the abortion ban even further, one of Malta's marginal opposition parties, the Democratic Party (PD) came up with a plan that they thought might bridge the pro-birth and pro-choice camps. The party proposed that unwanted pregnancies would be maintained until the fetus could survive and then the government could induce delivery.  Far from being any kind of solution, the PD revealed just how far the instrumentalization of women's bodies can go. 

What’s the claim?

As reported by the Times of Malta, the Democratic Party has proposed “medically accelerating” unwanted pregnancies as an alternative to abortion. This was their contribution after the announcement of the opposition’s pledge to enshrine the abortion ban in the Constitution.

PD leader Godfrey Farrugia, himself a medical doctor, was quoted as saying, “We deal with these situations [of unwanted pregnancies] by offering an alternative where delivery is medically accelerated to limit the negative psychological impact on the mother.” Desire to abort, in Dr Farrugia's view, could be considered a psychological state that merits pre-term delivery.

PD has repeatedly tried to bridge the raging divide between proponents and opponents of these laws which oblige women to carry even pregnancies from rape or incest to term. Yet many fear that these exceptional circumstances would only insert a further barrier  to legalized abortion based on choice, and they are an electoral force to reckon with. “We would not want pregnancies to be terminated because the parents, and particularly the woman, face a bleak future without any adequate moral, psychological, material and social support,” PD announced earlier, calling for prevention of unwanted pregnancies.

As it stands, Maltese women travel abroad to get abortion services, and PD thinks they would be spared the trouble if they just waited as long as it takes for their pre-term baby to have a chance of survival. The fetus would be delivered and given up for adoption, saving women from regret. In an interview with the Malta Independent, Dr Farrugia also said, “This means that at a viable gestational age, delivery is induced, thus giving a chance to a pre-term baby through state adoption and the mother to live her life. It is a measure that protects the dignity and life of everyone.”

According to the Times of Malta, even PD founder Marlene Farrugia distanced herself from the proposal, which she thought “has everything to do with subordination of females.” Doctors for Choice, a new lobby group advocating the liberalization of abortion, also reacted. Their representative Alexander Clayman said, “Pre-term deliveries are stressful for all parties involved and after-care [neonatal intensive care] is hugely costly both in terms of human and financial resources.”

What are the facts

Induction of labor works by using cervical ripening agents such as vaginal prostaglandin and mechanical dilators. Induced labor tends to be more painful than natural labor. The World Health Organization recommends that labor should not be induced before the 39th week unless medically indicated.

Scientists consider pre-term birth “a large public health concern and a large contributor to the burden of neonatal morbidity”. Induction before term (before labor starts spontaneously) is prescribed to tackle a medical necessity, such as a risk of complications due to hypertensive disease and diabetes.

Inducing labor before the fetus matures would make it a pre-term birth. In the US, preterm birth was found to be contributing to over 35% of total infant health care spending, at more than 5 billion dollars per year.

When a baby is born pre-term, their organs are not completely mature, and “they may need help breathing, eating, fighting infection, and staying warm. Very premature babies, those born before 28 weeks, are especially vulnerable.” The gestation (pregnancy) time would be within the limits cited in PD's proposal, so what PD is suggesting is ultimately delivering extremely premature babies, who risk having long-term health problems and even bleeding in the brain.

According to WHO, pre-term birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under 5 years of age in the US, with the risk more pronounced for extremely pre-term babies. Although in high-income countries only one in ten dies, pre-term babies often “face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities and visual and hearing problems.”

Given these risks, WHO recommends “kangaroo” mother care, which means plenty of bodily contact and frequent breastfeeding. Since PD's proposal would extract pre-term babies from women who were trying to seek an abortion, this highly important lifeline would not be available to them. In general, research shows that unwanted children have worse developmental outcomes, which means they will require more services.

CONCLUSION

Waiting over 28 weeks, to avoid the risks associated with extreme pre-term birth, would not really help women who do not want to be pregnant. International science confirms the doubts expressed by Doctors for Choice, and shows that, if implemented, the proposal would put women and babies at preventable risk. The claim that induced birth can be treated as an “alternative to abortion” is disinformation, and particularly dangerous when presented by a medical doctor.

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Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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