The Malta Independent 20 May 2024, Monday
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Voice for Choice withdraws support for abortion bill, says it has become a law that may kill women

Friday, 23 June 2023, 13:13 Last update: about 12 months ago

New amendments to the abortion bill are vague, unworkable, dangerous and will lead to vulnerable pregnant persons being left permanently disabled or dead, the Voice for Choice coalition has said.

Health Minister Chris Fearne announced changes to a bill the government had proposed to allow abortions to take place in cases where the prospective mother’s life is at risk on Friday morning.

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The amended bill introduced amendments to clarify that a pregnancy termination may only be considered when the mother’s life is at risk, when all other medical practices have been exhausted, and when the pregnancy itself is not viable.

"The debate was a major breakthrough in Malta and allowed people to view abortion as the necessary medical procedure that it is, but the revised version of Bill 28 is a step in the wrong direction. For the first time in this country's history, the law will mandate an unworkable and dangerous requirement of three specialists' consent before a pregnant person can access treatment while their health is at grave risk," Voice for Choice said.

"Even if the revised Bill 28 still allows doctors to terminate a pregnancy that is causing a risk to life without the authorisation of additional specialists, it is highly likely that doctors will seek authorisation in all cases due to fear of prosecution, leading to a 'chilling factor'. This would be a step backward from the status quo of simply not enforcing the law in hospitals and may lead to pregnant persons facing even longer delays and barriers to treatment than they do now."

"To make it worse," it said, "the only situation when professionals are allowed to act is when the woman has condition that will lead to death. This means that pregnant persons could have to endure any kind of life-changing condition or disability. The government is effectively saying that women should only be protected if they are going to die. This has significant consequences and goes against government's actions to protect women against violence, even contradicting them."

The original Bill 28 was a step in the right direction for the country to be a safer place for pregnant women and persons, allowing doctors to offer the necessary treatment to preserve their health and lives, the coalition said. "Even then, it would have not gone far enough by international standards; even then it would have still been the most restrictive law in the EU. On the contrary, this current amendment is a major setback and a betrayal of pregnant women and persons in Malta."

"As the Voice for Choice coalition, we withdraw our support for Bill 28 and call upon the government to pause the hurried passage of the Bill through Parliament, engage in more consultations, and to avoid making a historic mistake. We will not be deterred from pushing for change. In fact, in face of such betrayal, we promise to keep fighting more passionately and determinedly for the protection of women and pregnant persons in Malta until abortion is decriminalised and accessible."

The Voice for Choice statement was signed by Academics for Choice, Aditus Foundation, Doctors for Choice, Grandparents for Choice (Nanniet għall-Għażla), Integra Foundation, Lawyers for Choice, Moviment Graffitti, Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement, Malta Humanist Association, Men Against Violence, Parents for Choice, Students for Choice, Women's Rights Foundation, Young Progressive Beings.

In a seperate statement, Pro-choice NGO Doctors for Choice has said that the government has put all women who can get pregnant in jeopardy through the changes it announced to its controversial abortion bill on Friday.

“It has just been announced that the government has turned Bill 28 from a law that would have protected women’s health to a law that could cost women their lives,” Doctors for Choice said on its Facebook page soon after Fearne’s press conference.

The changes will also introduce into a law a provision that when the danger to the mother’s life is not imminent, then the decision on whether the pregnancy is terminated or not must be taken by a team of three medical professionals.

“Women will now need to be facing death to qualify for termination of pregnancy, and they have to wait for three specialists to approve treatment. This requirement was not in law up to now, which means this law could lead to a situation that is even worse than the status quo,” the NGO said.

“By caving in to demands of people who do not care about women’s wellbeing and are only interested in maintaining a ban on abortion, the government has put all women who can get pregnant in our country in jeopardy,” it added.

Doctors for Choice said that it views this law as “a regressive step and call upon the government to immediately halt its progression through parliament and avoid making a historical mistake.”

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