The Malta Independent 3 February 2023, Friday
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Opinion: Stand up to be counted - Tonio Fenech

Sunday, 4 December 2022, 09:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Tonio Fenech

Just two weeks ago in an interview on a national newspaper the Prime Minister affirmed that the government does not have a mandate to introduce abortion in Malta. 

Two weeks later, the government presents an amendment to the Criminal Code that everyone under the sun is talking about, be it the local and international press, the 81 experts that presented a well-studied position paper of the clause and its implications, 44 organisations supporting publicly the academics reports, pro-life and pro-abortion groups, opposition parties in Parliament and outside of Parliament in favour or against the Government’s proposal, Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer and 108 MEPs that came out supporting Maltese government abortion amendments, President Emeritus Mary Louise Coliero Preca and lastly but certainly not least, as reported, the President of the Republic.


Everyone is calling a spade a spade, except the government, that sought to hastily pass this amendment through Parliament, camouflaged in pro-life language the failed miserably to pass as intended, unnoticed. 

An important democratic principle: if the clause presented by Government is introducing abortion, whether opening the door, not doing enough or allowing for abortion to come in on demand, whatever the degree of abortion being introduced in PM’s own word, the government does not have a mandate to introduce abortion without a mandate.

If true to its own statements, that the government only sought to codify present practices, then clearly a retraction of the clause presented in by Government is warranted, and instead a consideration of the clause and recommendations of the Group of 80 Experts Report is most desirous.  In line with the government’s declared intention, the Group presented a clause and a framework that seeks to provide protection for the mother facing a difficult pregnancy that is putting her life in danger, the doctors that are required to intervene and the child that in the government proposal is completely absent.

The government’s argument – that if we want to protect doctors and mothers in difficulty then we need to provide better legal clarity – is indeed flawed as when one reads the cacophony of interpretations of a clause the last thing it can be described is clarity. 

Doctors who have lived under the present law and protocols have never been prosecuted, and the present law and these protocols stood the test of time.  In the past 10 years with over 40,000 births and with some 5 complicated pregnancies every year, not one mother’s life has been lost.  Doctors have had difficult decisions to make and occasionally and regrettably the life of the child was lost, and yet no doctor or mother was ever prosecuted.

Then comes the Prudente case, a woman who demanded an abortion against the law of our country.  In line with our laws and protocols the doctors did their duty and provided the professional medical assistance that is expected and, as declared by the State Advocate in the case she instituted against the Maltese State, her life was never in danger and therefore abortion could not be justified.

The core concern of the Group of 80 Experts Report is precisely that the clause the government presented provides less and not more clarity to doctors and courts, as it uses vague and unclear terms such as "suffering from a medical complication which may put her life at risk or her health in grave jeopardy."  What type of risk justifies abortion, how grave is grave, and to what extent is there a threat to life or health in general?  None of these terms are defined.  Under the present law the situation is very clear. Is the present medical complication the mother is facing a situation that is leading to potentially her death? This is the question that doctors need to answer today if they are to consider making an intervention that puts the life of the child at risk in order to save the mother’s life.  

Because there is another life at play, that of the child, that Constitutionally has also the right to be protected.

This position is endorsed by not only the Group of 81 experts, but also by the 451 doctors that have endorsed the experts’ position, the over 2,000 other medical professionals (10% of the general public) that have petitioned their MPs, and other medical associations such as MUMN that have asked for a meeting with the government to express their concerns.

It is the clause and the recommendations made by the Group of 80 Experts that provides the legal framework and certainty that doctors and mothers facing these complex and heart-breaking situations need.  The government’s proposal throws so much subjective interpretation that indeed the clause will expose medical professionals to litigation if they refuse a mother who evidently, in their eyes, is simply trying to procure an abortion under some medical condition she considers grave and putting her in jeopardy.

With the vague and undefined terms proposed in the government bill, introducing the concept of health issues is effectively introducing abortion on demand for non-physical life threatening situations, including mental health issues, like a pregnancy depression that can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress and possibly suicidal thoughts.   Do such situations require or justify an abortion, the killing of a healthy child, in a perfectly physically healthy woman?   Certainly not; this is not protecting the life of a mother, but pure and simple abortion. Since the UK enacted a very similar clause in the 60s it brought about the abortion of over 10 million babies with 97% of them for a variety of mental health reasons.

What a woman facing mental health challenges needs is love, therapy, medication and support to see her through a difficult moment, recover and deliver the child safely.  Abortion cannot be considered as mental health therapy, because certainly it is not. Instead, under the proposed bill she may find herself supported to make an abortion which in her right state of mind she would never ask for and would regret to have committed.

For all these reasons we need to send a clear message to Government together with the 81 experts, 44 organizations, President Emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, 450 doctors, so far over 21,000 petitioners and various other organisations and people of good will who are confused by the government rhetoric but, if asked, are against abortion.  Irrespective of your political beliefs abortion has no place in Malta.  If you believe so, it is time for you to stand up and be counted and tell the government that you may have even elected but have no mandate to introduce abortion. 

Join us the coming Sunday at 3pm in front of Castille in Valletta.  With one voice let us support the campaign.


Tonio Fenech is writing obo of the Coalition for Life


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