The Malta Independent 6 December 2021, Monday

We do not have mandate to open debate on access to abortion, PM tells CoE commissioner

Neil Camilleri Tuesday, 16 January 2018, 10:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has told the Council of Europe that the Maltese government “neither has the political mandate to open a debate on access to abortion, nor the supports of the public opinion on this matter.”

Muscat was replying to a latter by the CoE’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks,who urged Malta to decriminalise abortion.

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Muiznieks said from discussions he had with a wide range of interlocutors “it transpired that women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights remain sensitive issues in Malta, as in some other Council of Europe member states. Despite the public discussion on the emergency contraceptive pill without a prescription that led to its welcome authorisation in December 2016, I have been struck by the fact that abortion remains a taboo issue in public debates.”

The commissioner said “the very restrictive domestic legislation that criminalises abortion in a blanket manner jeopardises the full enjoyment by women of a number of their human rights.”

He said that Maltese women who decide to have an abortion can travel to other European countries to do so or can undergo an illegal abortion at home.

This leads to discrimination between those who can afford to travel and those who cannot, and has severe repercussions on women’s health and well-being.

“Thus, the current prohibition regime needs to be addressed through an open and informed public debate leaving no space for stigmatisation or threats to those engaged therein.In this context, I would like to recommend that appropriate measures be adopted in order to decriminalise abortion and facilitate access to safe and legal abortion care on a woman’s request in early pregnancy, and thereafter throughout pregnancy in order to protect every woman’s health and life and to ensure freedom from ill-treatment. This implies ensuring accessibility and availability of legal abortion services in practice, including by establishing efficient and effective procedures and processes by which women can enforce existing legal entitlements to abortion services.”

 

Domestic violence

Mui?nieks (above) said it had also been brought to his attention, during the course of a recent visit to Malta, that there are a series of obstacles to the effective implementation of the existing legislative framework on domestic violence. “One such obstacle is the inadequate reporting of domestic violence, sometimes as a result of a reported lack of trust on the part of victims in the police force’s commitment to effectively investigating such cases.”

Other obstacles reported to him were: lack of social support provided at the initial stages of these procedures at police stations; reluctance of certain judges to effectively sanction perpetrators, especially in cases where victims declare in court that they “forgive” the reported acts of violence.

The commissioner hoped that the recently launched Gender based violence and Domestic violence strategy and action plan would address these issues.

He also urged Malta to make sure that all law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges dealing with domestic violence are provided with such training in an on-going and systematic manner.

 Replying on the domestic violence issues, Muscat said a project that is being led by the Human Rights and Integration Directorate has already trained more than 700 professionals from different sectors including the police and social services, and is laying the foundation for the adoption of better tools to help professionals assess risk and protect victims and potential victims better.

“Once the law is adopted, the police will be empowered to seek urgent temporary removal of perpetrators from the domestic unit, and victims will not be in a position to pardon their perpetrator with the effect of terminating court proceedings any longer.” 

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