The Malta Independent 29 February 2020, Saturday

Muscat declines to comment on which civil liberties he will be pushing for

Monday, 20 January 2020, 13:35 Last update: about 2 months ago

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat refused to give an explanation as to which civil liberties he was referring to during his final speech as Prime Minister. He had hinted that he plans to push for new civil liberties which led many to believe that he was thinking of pushing for the legalisation of abortion.

When The Malta Independent contacted Muscat for elaboration, the reply was received from Mark Farrugia, who served as chief of staff after the resignation of Keith Schembri.

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Farrugia said that Muscat has no further comments to make.

Muscat, during his speech, had said: “Our society has large and delicate debates that it must carry out on civil liberties where every individual, every man, and above all, every woman, can take their decision freely.” 

Many speculated that Muscat wants to discuss one of the most controversial topics on the island, abortion.

Malta is the only EU country where abortion is strictly prohibited and illegal and a number of surveys which have been conducted have shown that the majority is still against the introduction of abortion.

The Malta Independent spoke to representatives from both Doctors for Choice and the Malta Life Network regarding their opinions.

New civil liberties could be pro-life not just abortion - Life Network Foundation

“When Muscat said he wants to continue working on promoting civil liberties, that could also include the promotion of life,” Miriam Sciberras, chairperson of the Life Network Foundation told The Malta Independent. Sciberras explained that Muscat’s comments are open to interpretation and that it is not wise to jump to conclusions.

“Muscat could be working on promoting civil liberties which could include the promotion of life,” expressed Sciberras. “We always think of the negative, but the pro-life movement all over Europe, America and Canada are fighting for civil liberties to protect the life of the unborn.”

She expressed that Muscat’s comment is open to interpretation, so she did not comment on what the Foundation would do if Muscat did start a discussion on abortion. “I do not feel that I should comment on something that not even the person who made such comments will not discuss further about.” She pointed out that during the PL leadership campaign both candidates had expressed that they are against abortion.

“It is very clear that our new prime minister does not agree with abortion and that he also ruled out any referendum under his watch. We also have a president who speaks out for the protection of life, and therefore it is unfair that we keep pushing this agenda - people are trying to create a discussion which is not there.”

‘It is premature for us to comment’  

Voice for Choice and Doctors for Choice released a joint statement related to the news speculating whether Muscat wants to start a national abortion debate.

“It is premature for us to comment. All we have to say at this point is that women’s rights are not the fiefdom of politicians to be pulled out of the bag at opportune moments.

Irrespective of how the discussion on abortion evolves and who pushes it forward, we will remain an independent, non-partisan, autonomous coalition representing the voice of human rights organizations within it.”

Apart from abortion, what else could Muscat be referring to?

Malta’s new Prime Minister Robert Abela has made it very clear that he opposes the legalisation of abortion, and Archbishop Charles Scicluna reacted to Muscat’s speech by stating that “anybody who has the best interests and the civil liberties of ‘future generations’ truly at heart will promote a culture of life and responsible love where the rights of the unborn are promoted and protected.” President George Vella has also stated that he would refuse to sign any abortion law, insisting that he would rather resign.

Going back to Muscat’s farewell speech, listening to the ex-Prime Minister say that he is aware that his plans will not go down well on everyone, it is understandable for people to jump to the conclusion that he is referring to abortion. Whilst the discussion on abortion really took a turn in 2019, there are other civil rights which Muscat might be referring to.

Surrogacy is still illegal in Malta, and whilst IVF has been granted to heterosexual, female same-sex couples and single women, there has been no proper discussion. Last year Health Minister Chris Fearne has said that there first needs to be an internal discussion before any discussions can take place in parliament. In 2018, Fearne had piloted changes to the law regulating IVF that had reference to surrogacy, but it was withdrawn.

According to Maltese law, it is a law to assist someone to commit euthanasia and if someone is caught assisting another person to end his life, they may be imprisoned up to twelve years.

In the past Muscat had declared that he is against euthanasia, but felt that the topic should have an honest conversation which would be free from politics. Other activists have vocalised their opinion that euthanasia should be a personal choice and in 2017 the youth sector of the Labour Party had come out in favour of legalising euthanasia and that it should be included in its electoral manifesto.

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