21 September 2014

Malta does allow for abortions in case of life or death situations

 - Sunday, 05 May 2013, 10:29

by Annaliza Borg

Malta does allow for abortions in cases when the mother’s life is at risk, and news reports this week that only Malta and the Vatican City are the two countries that do not allow for abortions in such circumstances once a new law passes in Ireland, are consequently inaccurate. 

Speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday, Pierre Mallia, an Associate Professor in Family Medicine, Patients’ Rights and Bioethics at the University of Malta and Ethics Adviser to the Malta Medical Council, explained that doctors observe the principle of double effect in Malta.

According to this principle, if a mother needs to be given treatment and as a result the embryo or foetus is harmed, this is morally right.

He explained that in cases of ectopic pregnancies and cancer, the principle of double effect is strictly observed and the patient and family are consulted when treatment is being given.

The Criminal Code states: Whosoever, by any food, drink, medicine, or by violence, or by any other means whatsoever, shall cause the miscarriage of any woman with child, whether the woman be consenting or not, shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term from 18 months to three years.”

The same punishment shall be given to any woman who procures her own miscarriage.

Moreover, the Criminal Code specifies: “Any physician, surgeon, obstetrician, or apothecary, who shall have knowingly prescribed or administered the means whereby the miscarriage is procured, shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term from 18 months to four years, and to perpetual interdiction from the exercise of his profession.”

However, Prof. Mallia explains that while abortion is illegal, in practice, when things take a turn for the worse and a patient’s life is at risk, moral principles are observed.

“Even if we were to have a law on restricted abortion, this can never cater for all $medical eventualities,” he said.

Prof. Mallia also pointed out that as part of the judiciary’s salaries review, magistrates are attending seminars on particular subjects to ensure consistency in the interpretation of laws and a seminar on ‘End of Life’ is planned.

In practice, Malta is far better off than Ireland where Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist who died in October after she was denied an abortion. As a result of that case, a restrictive abortion law has been drawn up for consideration by the Irish parliament. Besides Malta and Ireland, the Vatican City is the only European country that does not have an actual law on life-saving abortion.

While the Irish Bill is historic, it has to be passed through both Houses of Parliament and it does not cover cases concerning rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities.

The draft law, which must still be passed by Parliament, is intended to provide legal clarity to enable doctors to perform abortions when the life of a pregnant mother is at risk.

Dublin also faces pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 2010 that its failure to clarify when an abortion is legal for women whose life is at risk was in breach of human rights.


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CJohn Zammit says:
05 May 2013 21:03

Not only is the title, of this article, incorrect, it is the jurisdiction of the Police to press charges or turn the other cheek.

The mentioned Doctrine of "Double Effect" is, itself, highly debatable with philosophers and prelates on both sides of the argument.

Like other civilized countries, Canada (where I live), went through this emotionally charged debate before striking down its (anti-)Abortion law.

The Supreme Court's decision reads: "Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction to carry a foetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman's body and thus a violation of her security of the person."

Articles 241 to 244, of the Maltese Criminal Code, directly defy the Maltese Constitution's Chapter IV, Article 32, which guarantees "Security of the person" and are, therefore, void.

The time has come for Maltese lawmakers to leave philosophers and prelates to their wiles, and stick to doing what is best for the citizens: repeal that abomination.

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Gorg Sciberras says:
05 May 2013 16:42

The title of the article is incorrect. If local practice does not follow the law, it cannot be legal. As Jimmy says above, it makes sense to update the law as the Irish are now doing.

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Jimmy Better says:
05 May 2013 16:27

Much better that the law be amended to reflect this 'moral' position.

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