Maltese abortion law changes to be tabled in parliament next week

Maltese abortion law changes to be tabled in parliament next week |

Legal amendments will be tabled in Maltese parliament next week to allow the legal termination of a pregnancy when the woman’s life is in danger, a first for the country with the strictest abortion rules in Europe.

Abortion is currently illegal in Malta under all circumstances, even in the case of rape, incest, or even if the woman’s life is at risk. Procuring a termination or assisting in giving one can result in a criminal conviction, prison, or in the case of medical professionals, being struck off.

“The choice isn’t between the mother living or the baby living. The choice here is whether the mother and baby both die or if the mother’s life is saved,” said Health Minister Chris Fearne while announcing the draft amendments.

“We don’t believe that after going through this ordeal, the woman should face the possibility of imprisonment.”

The situation with Malta’s restrictive and dangerous laws came to the fore this summer when an American woman who started miscarrying while on holiday was refused a termination, despite the risks carrying a dying fetus had for her health.

The medical staff even refused to hand over the documents needed to allow her to be transferred abroad, although they eventually yielded, and the traumatised woman was taken to Spain, where the abortion was carried out.

Recently, Prime Minister Robert Abela said changes were afoot, but they were nothing to do with abortion and would simply allow a pregnant woman’s life to be saved in cases where it was at significant risk. He said that currently, doctors were carrying out terminations in these cases but that it put them at risk of legal consequences.

The proposal unveiled this week was described as “pro-life” by Fearne, who added the State Advocate had looked at the current legal framework to identify loopholes that need addressing. Two such instances were identified; firstly that a doctor involved in giving an abortion faces between 18 months and four years in prison and a ban on practising medicine with no exceptions. The second was applied to any woman causing an abortion, again with no exception.

Statistics from the government and women’s health advocates show that every year, at least 400 Maltese women have an abortion by acquiring pills from abroad. This does not include those who travel outside of the country for abortions.

The proposed amendments see a new clause that states no offence will have been committed if the fetus dies due to an intervention carried out to save the mother’s life or health.

Justice Minister Johnathan Attard said that while prosecutions for these situations were far and in between, the fact that the possibility existed meant it had to be changed.

Gynaecologist Isabel Stabile from Doctors for Choice welcomed the move and called it a “step in the right direction,” but said they should also cover cases like incest, rape and if the fetus has an anomaly.

“Many people were genuinely concerned about the care they would receive in Malta should they have an obstetric complication…This legal change will help put their minds at rest,” she said.

“We know up to 400 people in Malta a year order abortion pills online and use them at home,” Stabile added. “These vulnerable people will continue to be criminalised while those who can afford to travel to clinics elsewhere in Europe will continue to do so.”

(Alice Taylor |


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