What should have been a mature informed debate has depressingly descended into a shameful insult. The toxic rhetoric bandied about is driven by unbridled emotion. Even the bishops resorted to demeaning language. Hysterically Bishop Teuma claimed that hospitals would become slaughterhouses.
An American woman who went through a personal ordeal was subjected to malicious slurs. Wild conspiracy theories were circulated about her. She was transformed into a public hate figure by ill-judged and irresponsible comments.
ONE News maliciously accused doctors who signed a petition against the abortion amendment of having privately advised women to have abortions. ONE News excels in destroying the reputations of those expressing views opposed to those of the Labour Party. ONE’s message is deeply cynical: don’t believe these doctors, they’re just hypocrites.
Robert Abela even attacked Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, reminding people of positions she had taken on completely unrelated issues. “If you ask me if I agree with the position she took against divorce in 2011, I’d say I do not agree with it. If you ask me If I agree with the position she took…on the reforms on IVF, I’d say I don’t agree”. The Prime Minister shamelessly discredited the former President and Labour Minister for contradicting him.
He undermined 450 doctors who signed a petition urging the government to make changes to the amendment. “There are 2,500 registered doctors,” Abela rebutted. Those 450 don’t matter, according to Abela, their view shouldn’t even be considered. He accused those who disagreed with his views of being “against progress”.
He even slandered a group of academics that recommended limits to his proposed amendment. “Academics like these came out criticising us when we were moving the IVF laws, the law that banned conversion therapy and the equality bill,” he said.
He was either lying or mistaken. But he doesn’t care. He didn’t worry about inciting his mob against them. “They always say the intention is good,” he persisted clearly, insinuating that those academics’ intention was malign.
It’s not surprising that the country has been rent apart, its divisions amplified with both sides playing dirty. The responsibility for this distasteful debacle lies squarely at the feet of Robert Abela.
If this issue needed to be addressed, as Abela claimed, he could have sought consensus and worked hard to promote a balanced and reasoned debate where all voices could be heard before the amendment was brought before parliament.
Abela could have tried to garner cross-party support for a sensible amendment. He should have laid the groundwork to achieve his stated aims of protecting women whose health is in serious jeopardy and doctors who are involved in making those difficult decisions.
But he made no such attempt.
Despite claiming he intends to protect doctors, Abela never consulted the Medical Association of Malta. MAM confirmed it hadn’t requested the amendment. Even worse, MAM confirmed it wasn’t even consulted. Abela didn’t seek the doctors’ views about the amendment or their advice on how to improve it.
Abela didn’t just ignore the medical association. He ignored the opposition, which represents a substantial proportion of the population. He ignored his own grassroots.
He could have allowed more time for proper debate. He could have spent more time convincing, at least, his own party of the benefits of his amendment. There was no rush. After all, not a single doctor has even been prosecuted in this context. A good leader would have tackled such a delicate issue sensitively and cautiously. Instead, Abela’s got the people at each other’s throats.
Abela never learns. He did the same with the cannabis legislation. He rushed it through. Nothing was ready. His law benefitted nobody. It was at best half-baked, and at worst it was completely botched. The promised changes haven’t happened months after the legislation was passed.
Now he’s done the same. He’s steamrolled over everybody. He’s failed to consult. He’s convinced he knows best. “In my view, the amendment contains the best possible wording” he insisted, despite the serious flaws pointed out to him.
Abela’s not interested in doing what benefits the country. He’s interested only in getting his way and destroying the opposition, forcing what he believed would be another divisive issue for the opposition.
Abela’s gross mishandling of the situation exposes his increasing detachment from the sentiment of a bulk of the population. It revealed his poor judgement and his abysmal lack of foresight.
He failed to gauge that, even among his party, the issue was too sensitive to ram through without considering genuine objectors’ reservations.
Abela is either detached from the people and party, or his level of arrogance has reached such heights that he couldn’t care less.
Abela demonstrates a level of recklessness that casts serious doubts on his ability to navigate treacherous waters. He totally misjudged the strength of feeling around abortion. He got it completely wrong.
Instead of getting his way, he’s besieged from all quarters – including his own. He should step back and take on board the wise advice he has received on the proposed amendment’s wording. Instead, Abela becomes more hostile and attacks those who dare to voice an alternative view: “They’re against progress”, “They’re always against change”, “She opposed divorce”, “She was against IVF”.
He even ignored the President’s views on the matter. He didn’t care about embarrassing him. He had done it before with the IVF legislation, having compelled the President to ridicule himself and demean his office with a pathetic self-imposed exile while his stand-in signed the Bill into law.
Abela could have avoided all this. But he is simply unable to unify and incapable of reconciling different voices. This is not the unifying leader the country needs, especially where highly sensitive issues are involved.
Where tact, caution and prudence are most required, Abela brings abrasiveness, hostility, and clumsiness. Abela brings the worst out of the nation, plunging it into a crisis of mistrust. This is the politics of confrontation, divisiveness, antagonism and disrespect. This is the politics of Robert Abela – a dangerous mix of blind arrogance and tragic incompetence.