As abortion debate opens up, theatre reflects and responds
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As abortion debate opens up, theatre reflects and responds

“People want to talk about it but they can’t because they’re shouted down” - author

Actors Jo Caruana and Alan Paris in De-terminated. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Actors Jo Caruana and Alan Paris in De-terminated. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Abortion remains one of Malta’s greatest taboos, but the debate has slowly opened up, spurred in part by one of the first public calls for its legalisation in a position paper by the Women’s Rights Foundation.

So it may say something about the current state of play that the issue is for the first time set to hit the theatre, with a script by a Maltese author depicting the real experiences of Maltese people from both sides of the debate.

Written and directed by Herman Grech (who is also the Times of Malta’s digital editor) De-terminated, opening on October 19 at Spazju Kreattiv, draws from interviews with people who went through the abortion experience, as well as activists from both the pro-life and pro-choice lobbies.

The stories, presented without fictional embellishment in a documentary format, range from a girl who explains why she chose to have an abortion after she was raped, to the man who forced his partner to terminate and is nowadays an anti-abortion advocate.

For Mr Grech – who stresses that his script doesn’t take sides – the play is an opportunity to break the silence and prompt discussion.

“We don’t know how to discuss difficult issues in this country: it goes from politics to immigration to social issues like abortion or euthanasia,” he said.

“I’m quite sure the majority of the Maltese are against abortion, but I think it’s important to understand why the minority – I don’t know how many there are – see things this way. As much as we ignore this subject, I cannot ignore the fact that there are women having abortions. If nobody were having an abortion, I wouldn’t have written this play.”

One of the girls I spoke to had only told four people before me

But not everyone sees it that way. Among those Mr Grech interviewed was Klaus Vella Bardon from the anti-abortion Life Network Foundation, who said he saw calls for debate as a Trojan horse.

“Contentious issues are often brought in under the excuse of an open dialogue or debate,” he said. “But abortion is a matter of killing the unborn – the most defenceless in society – so it’s like me saying we should have a debate about killing your grandmother. If you’re going to make a play to shed light on the horror of such legislation, then I can understand that, but is the play going to portray, with strength, the position of people who are not in a position to talk?”

Lara Dimitrijevic from the Women’s Rights Foundation is another of the interviewees whose viewpoint appears in the play.

“I think putting the topic into an artistic form can bring different views together,” she said. “What we’ve always said is: let’s discuss, let’s listen to each other. If we don’t know a woman’s situation, how can we just say a blanket ‘no’?”

Dr Dimitrijevic expressed her frustration at the shutting-down of calls for a debate, which she said only deepened the stigma surrounding “the a-word”.

“Abortion isn’t something that’s not happening in this country. When it happens, the woman who for whatever reason has chosen to end a pregnancy has to continue living with the stigma and that is unjust,” she said.

With these opposing viewpoints put to him, Mr Grech points to a simple fact: the number of people who came to him to tell their story or share their views once they heard he was writing the play.

“People want to talk about it but they can’t because they’re shouted down,” he said. “One of the girls I spoke to had only told four people before me – her parents don’t know about it. Should we be living in a society where we’re dictated by fear?”

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