Hope for the Unborn
by Marika Azzopardi
Dr Karen Vincenti MD is a busy mum and doctor. With a background covering Public Health, Infectious Disease, Medical Epidemiology, Environmental Health Epidemiology and Environmental Health Policy, it surprising to find her involved in an association such as HOPE. But being one of the founding members of GOL – the Gift of Life – together with her husband Paul Vincenti, makes her an ideal candidate.
“As a group we were always concerned about the importance of education and support in this delicate situation and so PAIS – Pro-Life Awareness in Schools was set up as the educational wing of GOL. Eventually several older women in crisis pregnancies requested our specific help and that is why HOPE was born in 2006 – as a Crisis Pregnancy Support Service.”
HOPE’s role is simple to understand. Contrary to GOL which lobbies for pro-life action, HOPE supports and offers practical help, education and information to women in distress at a delicate moment. Facing an unwanted pregnancy is not a simple situation.
“I have been highly involved in work at the GU Clinic and it is there that I became also concerned with the lifestyle many women lead. Not only do they expose themselves to a high risk of infectious sexually transmitted diseases – but they also risk unwanted pregnancies. I was used to advising people about both issues and in fact when women turn up at HOPE, we very often refer them for screening to the GU Clinic.”
One of the most stringent concerns revolves around HIV which, Dr Vincenti, has taken an alarming upward surge. This intensifies her belief that education has to be directed meaningfully. “In an ideal scenario, crisis situations should be prevented. We have seen the youngest mum to approach HOPE to be in her early teens but women who consult us are not all teenagers – we even get women in their forties. An unwanted pregnancy may come at any moment in a woman’s life whether she is single, married, having relational difficulties, one-night stands, extra-marital affairs – the common thread is having unprotected sex.”
Dr Vincenti mentions a phenomenon that has seen Maltese women becoming increasingly involved with foreigners, including high numbers of coloured African men. When women suspect they have become pregnant, many times panic sets in – a coloured child is a sure giveaway.
Advising women in such situations means threading a fine line between being pro-life and being anti-abortion. What is HOPE’s stand? “We have a main concern – the woman herself and her eventual baby. Many things make a woman go to the extreme of considering an abortion and I can guarantee that no woman would willingly go for an abortion if she could avoid it, no matter her situation, no matter her religious belief, no matter her ideals. We have never mentioned religious belief in all this, but it does come into it. The women bring it along with them because it is a soul-searching moment. Ultimately, when women make the final decision, they are more often relieved to find help and to take the decision which is best for them.”
Fear of a new situation, fear of failure to cope, fear of life-changing circumstances – these all add up to the pressure of taking the right decision that will mark a woman’s future. Dr Vincenti says that amongst the women who turned up for help at HOPE, there were some who had already experienced an abortion. “Women don’t just go to the UK to abort. They go to Sicily or north Africa. In the latter case, more often than not, they arrive in Malta with severe bleeding – the abortion is probably done in a back street location as in north Africa abortion is illegal and can only be done that way.”
Up until recently HOPE only served as a first point of contact. The team, made up entirely of professionals – 12 in all within the core group itself –refers women to other specialists according to need. “Several gynaecologists have offered their services to our group which is a boon. We do have an ultrasound machine on our premises but this is not used for diagnostic purposes but merely to check at what stage the pregnancy is so that advice can be meted out accordingly.”
Dr Vincenti’s role within HOPE is also and ultimately a co-ordinating one. HOPE is regularly offered supplies which could come in handy to women preparing to deal with raising a child. “Our stores are crammed with stuff that we donate to expectant mums – nappies, sterilizers, breast pumps, baby clothes, playpens – the lot. We usually prepare the baby’s layette and the mother’s hospital bag with all that is needed. And see that she can cope with her new situation. There are other similar support groups working abroad such are LIFE in the UK, HUMAN LIFE INTERNATIONAL in the US and BE’AD CHAIM in Israel. We have received much help from these quarters. Ultimately abortion is not only a Maltese issue – it is an international one concerning all women.”
HOPE welcomes any help with acquiring vitamins, formula milk, nappies, baby items or anybody wishing to volunteer professional service. Contact weekdays 14.00 – 18.00 or Saturday mornings before 13.00 on 21418055 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.. Check out www.lifemalta.org.