When in Europe, do as the Europeans do...

And once again, the same old question arises. Did our ‘indefatigable protector of the unborn child’ ever object to that reasoning, at any point of his two-year term as European Health Commissioner? And if not… does he object to it now?

I was wondering how long it would take former Health Minister (and European Health Commissioner) Dr Tonio Borg to finally weigh in on the ongoing abortion debate, triggered by Marlene Farrugia’s private member’s bill last week.

As it happens, we didn’t have to wait too long. Last Friday, The Times carried a hard-hitting opinion piece, entitled ‘A despicable abortion bill’, in which the former European Commissioner lashed out at both Marlene and Godfrey Farrugia over their “surprising, not to say hypocritical,” U-turn.

And I shall have to confess that… well, he does have a small point there (though it remains just slightly debatable whether Tonio Borg himself is ideally positioned to actually make it: for reasons I’ll turn to in a sec).

Consider, for instance, the following excerpt: “So long as they [Marlene and Godfrey] were contesting general elections, both proposers were adamant supporters of the right to life. After all, a huge majority of the electorate still opposes abortion. They used to partici¬pate in the annual March for Life organised by Life Network. One of the proposers objected to the law on embryo freezing since this would lead to abortion, and had even suggested an abrogative referendum to repeal this law.

“When they finally resigned even from the Democratic Party, which they had founded, and having declared that they would not contest the next general elections, they were now no longer accountable to public opinion.  They have, therefore, come out with this idea to introduce a limitless abortion bill…”

Well, what can I say? It’s not often that I find myself in full agreement with a man who – in case anyone’s forgotten - has an entire history of weaponizing the abortion issue, at every opportunity, for purely party-political reasons.

So let’s just pause to savour the moment. Yes, Tonio Borg is actually spot-on in that assessment.  It’s a point I made myself, last Sunday: there is something deeply (and suspiciously) cynical, about how two openly anti-choice politicians would simply contradict all their past positions on the same issue… at a time when there was no longer any political price to pay, for a volte-face of such staggering proportions.

But then again… when it comes to abortion, ‘cynicism’ and ‘hypocrisy’ are hardly the sole prerogative of the Farrugias, are they? And to hear that argument coming from Dr Tonio Borg, of all people…

Ooh, I don’t know. Perhaps the former European Commissioner needs a little reminding, of the time when he himself had likewise disavowed all his former ‘pro-life’ positions, at a time when (let’s face it) it was politically convenient for him to do so.

So let’s take a brief, retrospective glance at Dr Borg’s career as a militant anti-abortion crusader, shall we? Starting with that extraordinary moment when he faced a grilling at the hands of MEPs, in the process that led to his appointment as European Commissioner for Health in November, 2012.

Like many others, I followed that session of the European Parliament with rising disbelief and stupefaction. There, before our very eyes, was the sight of Malta’s great champion of the unborn, publicly declaring that he would be “a European, not a Maltese Commissioner”… and reassuring MEPs, at every turn, that he would ‘not allow his own personal views to influence his actions as European Commissioner’.

In other words: the clean opposite of everything he had ever said or done, with regard to that abortion issue, throughout his previous career as a Maltese government minister… in which position, he had actively sought to impose his personal views on the entire country, by trying to entrench them into the Constitution, no less (where they would have been binding also on future – i.e., ‘unborn’ – generations).

More astonishingly still, in the build-up to that grilling he even submitted written reassurances, in a letter dated 17 November 2012, that he would (inter alia) “actively support EU policies with regard to women’s rights”.

Those policies, at the time, also included a commitment to ensure that the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals – featuring a clear commitment to maximise “access to sexuality education, family planning services and SAFE ABORTION [my emphasis]...” – would be fully implemented by 2015.

I need hardly add that the same Tonio Borg (in his earlier incarnation, as an indefatigable ‘protector of the unborn’) had relentlessly criticised other parties, such as Alternattiva Demokratika, for publicly subscribing to precisely the same UN Millennium Development Goals… whilst also never missing an opportunity to bash Labour’s MEPs, each and every time they supported any EP resolution which made any reference whatsoever to ‘women’s reproductive rights’.

Yet there the same Dr Tonio Borg was: blithely offering MEPs his wholehearted support for precisely the same EU targets – abortion, and all - that he had spent his entire career criticising others for pursuing...    

It was, to tell you the truth, a somewhat nauseating sight to behold. And I wasn’t the only one to be utterly gobsmacked by this sudden, inexplicable metamorphosis, either. Liberal MEP Sophie Int’ Veldt – whom some of you might also remember as part of the ‘Rule of Law’ delegation to Malta in more recent years – had this to say: “I’m a bit surprised to hear that [Tonio Borg] would like to reassure people that he’s not opposed to [abortion and gay rights]. I would actually find that quite astonishing. I would assume that if he holds strong views on those things, and if he claims, rightfully, the right to hold those views, that he will also stand by them…”

Ah, but… he didn’t stand by them, did he? Or a least: not when confronted by a European – as opposed to Maltese – audience…

On the contrary: having successfully secured the position of European Health Commissioner – precisely on the strength of publicly renouncing all his previous ‘anti-abortion’ principles – newly-appointed Commissioner Tonio Borg proved to be every bit as good as his word.

According to statistics published by the World Health Organisation, there were over 1.5 million abortions performed legally in the European Union in 2013 – the only full year of Tonio Borg’s tenure as Commissioner – which, by a remarkable coincidence, actually turns out to be an increase in European abortions over previous years.

Projected over the course of his full, two-year term… I make that around 3 million unborn children: all aborted on Tonio Borg’s watch. And OK: not even I would go so far as to hold the former Commissioner personally responsible for all those abortions… but at the same time: given his own, oft-repeated opinion (in Malta, at any rate) that ‘abortion is murder’… what did Commissioner Tonio Borg ever do to prevent any of those ‘murders’ from taking place, when he actually had the chance?

Why… absolutely zilch, of course. And not only that: but, throughout Borg’s stint as Health Commissioner, the European Commission continued with its practice of funding abortions in third countries… including countries where (like Malta) the practice is actually illegal.

According to a 2012 report by pro-life organisation European Dignity Watch, “Organizations like IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation), Marie Stopes International, or Medécins Sans Frontières receive huge funds from international donors such as the UN, USAID, or the European Commission, and deploy them to run ‘healthcare’ facilities in developing countries in which they provide abortions.”

Admittedly, this report was published a few months before Borg’s appointment, in November that same year. But there is plenty of evidence that the EU continued with its practice of funding abortions in third countries throughout Tonio Borg’s term; and also that the Commission (with Borg as one of its members) had refused, point-blank, to legislate against such funding programmes… even when it was handed the perfect opportunity to do so, on a silver platter.

This is how Agenda Europe – once again, a pro-life blog – described this extraordinary turn of events: “In 2013/14, the European Citizens’ Initiative ONE OF US called on the Commission to propose legislation that would ensure that no EU funds could be used for the funding of abortion. Even though the Initiative, with more than 1.7 million signatures, was the most successful citizens’ initiative so far, the Commission declined to follow up on it, claiming that ‘while the objective of EU development cooperation is universal and equitable access to good quality care for all citizens, the EU fully respects the sovereign decisions of partner countries as to which health services will be provided and how they are packaged as long as they are in line with agreed human rights principles. Therefore the Commission does not favour earmarking aid for certain services only, because it would make the comprehensive and effective support of a country’s health strategy more difficult’.”

Translation: the European Commission – in 2013/14, please note: when the Commissioner responsible for health was none other than Dr Tonio Borg – believed that the provision of abortion (even in countries where the practice is illegal) is ‘in line with agreed human rights principles’.

And once again, the same old question arises. Did our ‘indefatigable protector of the unborn child’ ever object to that reasoning, at any point of his two-year term as European Health Commissioner? And if not… does he object to it now?

Judging by his reaction to Marlene Farrugia’s bill this week… the answers would appear to be ‘no’ and ‘yes’, respectively. In other words, Tonio Borg is either ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’, depending entirely on what audience – European, or Maltese – he happens to be addressing, at any given moment.

Which takes us right back to that same excerpt I quoted from Tonio Borg’s article, above: with the teenie-weenie difference that…  this time round, it applies to his own “surprising, not to say hypocritical,” u-turn…