The Malta Independent 28 January 2023, Saturday
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TMIS Editorial - Abortion: There is still time to change

Sunday, 4 December 2022, 10:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

There is so much that is being said and written about abortion these days.

The subject has been brought to the fore once again after the government presented an amendment to the law which speaks of legalising the “termination of a pregnancy… aimed at protecting the health of a pregnant woman suffering from a medical complication which may put her life at risk or her health in grave jeopardy”.

These are the words that will be engraved in our laws unless the government changes its mind, and listen to what medical and ethical experts are saying.

But the government has so far failed to understand – or simply does not want to – that the way this clause is worded leaves so much room for interpretation. Many are construing this as opening the door to abortion in a much wider sense than what the government would like us to believe. The amendment is, rightly so, being labelled as a way to introduce abortion “by stealth”.

In its arguments, the government says it is not introducing abortion, but only clarifying a part of the law in the best interest of expectant mothers and their doctors. It is trying to defend itself because it has no mandate to legalise abortion, as this was not mentioned in its electoral programme. But we’re used to Labour surprises. It did so with the passport scheme, and it landed us before the European Court of Justice. Now it has embarked on a plan to legalise abortion.

Organisations who today will be holding a protest in Valletta against the government’s intentions on abortion have crudely described it as being a law that will allow “abortion on demand”. There is no better way to describe it.

More than 80 academics have written that the amendment as presented will mean that women could blame any mental health condition to demand a termination, “none of which should ever justify the sacrifice of a baby’s life”. This position was first endorsed by the Nationalist Party, and later by more than 450 medical doctors. The argument is that what the government is proposing is “too vague”, and should be changed to list definite cases when such interventions should be allowed.

The Nationalist Party is opposing the position taken by the government, insisting that the non-specification of which health conditions will constitute the right to abortion is effectively leaving too much space for manoeuvring, meaning that pregnancies will be terminated for lesser reasons than when the expectant mother’s life is at risk.

The government, for its part, is arguing that we should not go back to stigmatising people with mental conditions. But this is a rather weak contention, and a desperate one too, because the government knows that we have made great strides forward in the way we tackle mental health issues, and nobody wants to go back. No-one from the anti-abortion camp is belittling mental health matters; what they are saying is that mental problems should not be used as an excuse to terminate a pregnancy.

It must be pointed out that Malta provides excellent psychiatric care to all pregnant women who are suffering mental health issues. Added to this, as Doctors for Life said, existing psychiatric medications include options that are considered safe in a pregnancy, while peri-natal care provided in Malta is deemed to be among the best in Europe.

Including “mental health issues” as a reason why a pregnancy can be terminated only means that the government wants to offer the widest possible chance for abortions to take place, even when there is no physical danger to the woman. That the government does not want to budge from its position indicates what its real intentions are. Prime Minister Robert Abela and Labour Party politicians say they are against abortion, but the law they want to introduce says otherwise. 

The vast majority of abortions in the UK – over 98 per cent – are performed for mental health reasons. The wording of the law as the Maltese government has proposed it is similar to what they have in the UK. This justifies the concern expressed by doctors that, in its current form, the law will make abortion easily available, given the holistic definition of the term “health”, which includes both physical and mental wellbeing.

The pro-abortion lobbyists speak of women’s rights when it comes to what to do with their body. What they fail to mention is the rights of the unborn child, voiceless and innocent. Whoever is, today, speaking in favour of abortion, has already been born. What would they say about abortion if they had the possibility, as a foetus, to speak up?

There is still time for the government to change the wording of the clause. If it is really against abortion, and if it is really a government that listens, now is the time to prove it.





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