Raphael Vassallo | Sunday, 20 September 2009

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The morning after the century before

What can I say? Thank God we have a progressive leader of the Opposition. For who but the most progressive among us would divulge details of his (and his wife’s) personal health problems, in order to justify what is after all a humdrum, routine and, um, conservative political opinion?

And to be honest, it was information I could have just as easily done without. It’s not exactly like I was itching to know what issues Joseph may or may not have encountered when attempting to bring little Muscats into the world. Quite the contrary, in fact, and I would be automatically suspicious of anyone who were. More to the point, I find it sad that the Opposition leader should seek to justify his own views on contraception by exposing intimate details concerning his own married life. But then again, Joseph is his own man, and if he thinks it’s important for us all to know his family’s entire medical history, that’s entirely up to him.

However, Joseph Muscat is also in politics, and must understand that it is now entirely up to us (us being voters, by the way) to take a good look at what his outburst yesterday reveals: not so much about his own personal affairs or problems - like I said, those are none of our business - but rather, about what sort of Prime Minister we can expect Joseph Muscat to be, if he ever gets elected to the top spot.

Right: time to put all the pieces into their proper context. If Joseph Muscat spoke about contraception at all yesterday, it was primarily in response to the week’s news (more of which another time) that a parliament of young people had voted in favour of legalising the morning after pill in exceptional cases - specifically, rape.
(Incidentally, the use of “young people” in the above sentence is entirely deliberate. A “youth”, in English, refers to an immature adult MALE specimen of Homo sapiens sapiens; and in the video clip I happened to notice quite a few young ladies on both sides of the House).
In any case: it was reported yesterday that “Dr Muscat told the youths he and his wife went through a very difficult time after she had miscarried. As a result, he could not accept any method, including the morning-after pill, that stopped life.”
The next sentence in the report: “He agreed with another of the youths’ proposals dealing with in-vitro fertilisation and called for bioethics legislation that would not restrict treatment for infertile couples but enable it.”

OK, I’ll leave it to the Plastic Foetus Brigade to point out the somewhat glaring contradiction in these two separate claims (i.e., that the “moral objection” to both IVF and the morning after pill is entirely analogous: both, for different reasons and under different circumstances, are known to sometimes abort newly-fertilised ova). Nor will I waste time reminding Joseph Muscat that a bioethics law has already been drawn up - twice, in fact - and neither version would restrict IVF to married couples only (unlike the conservative “law” passed by our young parliamentarians this week, and which Joseph approves).

To be honest, I am more intrigued by the dynamics of Muscat’s reasoning. From where I’m sitting, his logic looks a whole lot like this: “My own personal problems involved fertility, so I am all in favour of technology such as IVF which would help other people in my own predicament. However, because fertility problems involve difficulties while trying to have children, I automatically disapprove of any emergency contraceptive device which (as contraceptive devices tend to do) actually make it harder for children to be conceived.”

Gee. How’s that for progressive? And what does it tell us about the decision-making processes hard at work within a future Prime Minister’s cranium?
I am sorry to have to point this out - and to be honest, I am surprised the Labour Party doesn’t have a budget to pay for this kind of advice - but the prospects don’t look good at all. No matter from what angle you approach the argument, or with what instruments you choose to dissect it, the result remains essentially the same: Joseph Muscat derives his political opinions from his own personal circumstances. If these circumstances happen to coincide with a progressive agenda, well, so much the better. If not, who cares? A conservative agenda will work just as well.

Now let us briefly try (and I stress the word ‘TRY’) to look at the same situation from an altogether different point of view: that of a woman, approaching 40, whose violent, psychopathic husband comes home drunk and rapes her practically every other day.
This woman’s problem is evidently not the same as Muscat’s. If anything, she probably already has more children than she ever bargained for, and for a wide variety of reasons (not least, her own health) lives in terror of another unwanted pregnancy. And let us assume also that she endures her regular ordeal without ever availing of any of the legal instruments at her disposal...again, for a wide variety of possible reasons (e.g., she loves her husband too much, is too afraid of him, doesn’t want more trouble for herself, is worried about possible effects of legal action on the children, etc.)
OK, I admit it’s a very sketchy example. Fact of the matter is that the above scenario will never be applicable to me, and unlike some people I could name, I find it hard to base judgments solely on my own immediate circumstances. But I am told examples like this do exist, and are possibly more common than generally imagined.

Again, I won’t waste time debating whether the morning after pill should be made available in such cases; or for that matter in all cases indiscriminately. But I will evoke just one or two possible counter arguments, if nothing else to have some kind of yardstick against which Joseph’s “progressive” stance can be measured.
Let’s take the typical conservative view championed by most Pro-Life organisations. Broadly speaking the argument is two-tiered: one, that any ovum fertilised through rape also constitutes a human person, with all pertaining rights and privileges; two, that it would be unfair to make this innocent person pay the ultimate price, for what is ultimately someone else’s transgression.
Yes, I know it’s easy to assail this argument on purely logical grounds... for instance, by simply undermining the premise in tier one, which is what most Pro-Choice debaters would do anyway. But you can’t deny that it has a certain consistency. After all, the same premise was not built on a whim or a fleeting personal impression, but on a firm belief shared by millions of people. And while millions of people may not be necessarily right, you can’t realistically expect them all to just abandon their own beliefs and comply with someone else’s. The most a Pro-Choicer can possibly hope to do is state his own case... which is where representation in parliament becomes an issue, but let’s not drift too far away from the point.

Meanwhile, to the above Pro-Life argument you could also add a generally recognisable Miltonic life-principle (extremely popular among Maltese Catholics), which in this instance translates roughly as follows: “While we sympathise with the plight of the woman in question, her problems remain part of the same Cross we all have to bear, in retribution for Adam’s first disobedience in the Garden of Eden (not to be confused with the public transport service providers of the same name, etc).”
Which I suppose is another way of saying that she, too, must pay the price for a crime ultimately committed by someone else (for further details, see Genesis 3:16).

Hmm. OK, here I concede that the premise becomes just slightly shakier... in fact I sometimes wonder whether I am the only one to spot a fairly giant contradiction in there somewhere... but whatever you make of the argument today, it was clearly not dreamt into being one fine night by Pope Benedict, then forced down all our throats the following morning. Around 2,000 years’ worth of thinking went into its formulation, and besides: what’s a poor conservative to do, anyway, but try and conserve it?

This is in fact what makes opposition to the morning after pill such a fundamentally conservative thing. It also explains the general consistency of the arguments involved with all other fundamentally conservative viewpoints: people who oppose the morning after pill are highly unlikely to also be in favour of IVF therapy, just as they are unlikely to favour euthanasia.
And it just happens to also illustrate the essential difference between the conservatism of, say, Paul Vincenti and the “progressive” politics of Joseph Muscat.

The latter did indeed come into being one particular day - in response to one particular event, as Muscat himself revealed - and is therefore nothing more than an emotional knee-jerk reaction to his own regrettable circumstances. This does not exactly constitute sturdy foundations for a serious government policy on contraception. In fact, it does not constitute sturdy foundations for anything at all.


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Raphael Vassallo:
The morning after the century before

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Le temps qui reste

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