The Malta Independent 5 December 2023, Tuesday
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Parliament to vote on abortion bill on Wednesday, PM says

Semira Abbas Shalan Tuesday, 27 June 2023, 18:43 Last update: about 6 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela said that Parliament will take the final vote on the bill that would introduce exceptions to Malta's abortion law today.

In an interview with ONE Radio on Tuesday, Abela spoke about the bill after government announced changes amending the original wording last week.

The amendments to the original wording of the bill, which seeks to change Malta's Criminal Code, were presented on Friday, with the government changing controversial elements of its first proposal in an act which drew praise from pro-life lobbies, and scorn from pro-choice lobbies. The changes sought to clarify that a pregnancy termination may only be considered when the mother's life is at risk and when the pregnancy itself is not viable. The changes also stipulate that in such a case that the prospective mother's life is in imminent danger, then a decision for an abortion may be taken by a single doctor; but in such cases where there is the risk that the prospective mother has a health condition where death due to the pregnancy could be a later possibility, a decision must be taken by a team of three medical professionals.


Abela said that the principle of the amendments was, is, and will be the same, that of protecting women and doctors.

He said that government received written advice by the State Advocate months ago detailing the lacuna in the current law, which he said the government had the courage to identify.

The State Advocate had said that in legitimate circumstances where a doctor needs to intervene to save a woman's life but would result in the termination of the pregnancy, they would still be breaking the law, which could lead to prison sentences for doctors, as well as the mother, Abela said.

Abela said that government held a series of consultation meetings with different stakeholders for weeks and months, and different perspectives were discussed.

He said that it is easy for the PN to now agree with the new proposed amendments, after having raised a controversy before and after it had told government that the law should not be touched claiming that an existent secret protocol at the hospital, which supposedly allowed for doctors to medically intervene in a life-or-death situation, was sufficient enough.

"We should not forget where we came from. We will be voting in favour of the law tomorrow, a change in the law was needed, and whether we should have done more or less, the principle remained the same," Abela said.

He said that the law emphasized on the question of health, and it being in grave jeopardy, deeming it unacceptable for a mother to have to wait until her situation worsens to the brink of death if her health was already declining.

"There were those who tried to spin, and those with genuine concerns over abortion being allowed in the country. I have spoken about it clearly, and in all versions of the law it was not intentioned to allow abortion into the country," Abela said.

He also spoke about the need for a discussion to address realities, such as the case of the woman who was charged with carrying out an abortion in her own home, after her abusive partner reported her to the police, saying this is a separate issue from that of the law being proposed.

Abela specified that in a situation where the mother's life is in imminent danger, a professional medical practitioner alone has the right to act.

In the second situation (in cases where there is the risk that the prospective mother has a health condition where death due to the pregnancy could be a later possibility) three medical experts are to consult and make a decision in the instance where a mother's medical condition could worsen and lead to the risk of loss of life.

"That is where we eliminate the abuse, and the professionals can act with the peace of mind that they have the law protecting them," Abela said.

He also said that realities in the last couple of weeks have continued, where doctors have had to request for a nolle prosecui from the State Advocate, who had to refuse as he could not issue it before the law was passed.

Abela said that there was a lot of scaremongering,  and that there were those who questioned the "genuine intentions of government."

He also said that the PN gave prominence to one suggestion where the medical professional would have to go to a magistrate to the decide if an abortion should be carried out, which Abela said could never come into place.

Another suggestion, which was not considered, is that there would be a fixed committee of three doctors who would always make these decisions.

"Good sense reigned and we have now come to this amendment, after months and weeks of discussions. We have reached a point of convergence, and while this does not mean that everyone agrees with us, today, the country understands our intentions and principles," Abela said.

He seperately spoke about the bill which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday that proposed changes to the law to provide for the enhanced protection of artistic expression, and in particular to provide for the avoidance of the misuse of the criminal justice system for the suppression of such form of expression.

Abela said that police had to follow up on reports made by River of Love pastor Gordon Manche, and government could have taken the easy position and leave it up to the courts.

"No artist should have to go to court for a satirical comment, and it should not be the courts who decide if a comment is satirical," Abela said.

He continued that the legislative changes are clear, and making a satirical comment is not a crime, therefore a charge would not be issued.

"Art needs to be invested in, not stifled. The message is strong and clear, and our job is still to achieve justice," Abela said, adding that the punishment of thousands of euro, as well as a guilty sentence tainting one's conduct, should not occur.

Abela also spoke about his recent trip to Libya, where a Memorandum of Understanding was signed over an interconnector sourcing renewable energy.

He said that this established another link between the African continent to the country, as well as the rest of Europe.

He said that Malta faces many space limitations which hinder the installation of many solar panels on the island, so solutions need to be effective and take into consideration these limitations.

Abela said that this interconnector, as well as projects of renewable energy at sea, will help Malta become less dependent on one market for energy, as well as achieve a greener transition, along with growing the economy.

He said that work on the second Malta-Ragusa interconnector is moving at a good pace, and by 2026, the installation is expected to be finished, and will start functioning.

Abela said that increasing provision of green sources of energy, as well as growing the economy, is vital.

He also appealed for the private sector to adopt this same vision, to achieve an economic transition which attracts more quality jobs.

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