Over 80 Maltese academics have signed a position paper on the Maltese Government’s proposed abortion law amendment that would introduce abortion up to birth, expressing “grave concern” and urging the Government to adopt a law that recognises the right to life of both the mother and the unborn child.
Earlier this week, the Maltese Government introduced a Bill to the Maltese Parliament that would introduce de facto abortion on demand up to birth. While the Government previously indicated it would alter legislation to codify current practice, the proposed legislation goes much further than that.
In Malta, where abortion is illegal, physicians currently remain free to intervene in cases where continued pregnancy is thought to be a threat to the mother’s life. In such cases, doctors can act to save the life of the mother, even if this results in the undesired death of the child.
However, the Bill, which received its first reading in the Maltese Parliament on Monday, goes much further than simply codifying current practice into law. Instead, the proposed amendment includes legalising abortion to protect the health of a pregnant woman who has medical complications that “may” put her “health in grave jeopardy”.
This wording is very similar to the “risk of injury to health” language that is used in the UK’s Abortion Act, which was passed into law in 1967. While this appeared to UK Parliamentarians at the time to be narrowly drafted to permit abortion in very limited circumstances, in practice, the inclusion of this provision has allowed for widespread abortion on demand to occur in England, Wales and Scotland.
Statistics from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care show that in 2021, over 200,000 abortions were performed under the ‘health’ clause in England and Wales, accounting for 98% of abortions that took place that year.
The vast majority of the over ten million abortions that have happened in the UK since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1967 have been allowed under this same ‘health’ clause in the law.
A number of other jurisdictions globally have included similar ‘health’ provisions (including previous laws in states in Australia and New Zealand) that have, in practice, allowed abortions on demand in very high numbers to happen in those jurisdictions.
Abortion up to birth
While abortions under the health clause in the UK Abortion Act have a time limit of 24 weeks gestation, the proposed Maltese Bill has no time limit on this clause, allowing abortion right up to birth.
This would allow de facto abortion on demand, for any reason, up to birth.
Dr. Calum Miller, doctor and research associate at the University of Oxford specialising in abortion policy, said in a tweet on Monday
“The government of Malta has announced a Bill allowing abortion for ‘health’ reasons. This is without any doubt an open gate to abortion on demand. Everyone who knows pro-life people in or from Malta should contact them now to alert them to this imminent danger”.
“For example, Great Britain legalised abortion only for health reasons in 1967, a law still in place. Yet 1 in 4 pregnancies in GB end in abortion, 200,000 a year. This is abortion on demand by stealth”.
Now, a group of academics are urging the Government of Malta to adopt a position in line with their original commitment to codify the current practice. The academics propose that it should be written into law that doctors have not committed any crime when “the death or bodily harm of an unborn child results from a medical intervention conducted with the aim of saving the life of the mother where there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the mother’s life from a physical illness.”
To avoid ambiguity, and to avoid abortion being allowed de facto on demand as it has been under similar health clauses in other jurisdictions, the doctors sought to clarify that those cases in which a “woman’s life is in manifest danger of death or where a real and substantial risk to her life exists from a physical illness” do not include cases of anxiety, emotional distress, inconvenience or foetal disability among other stipulations.
Maltese Government breaks election promise
Ahead of the 2022 Maltese general election, the Labour Party made a public commitment to ensure continued legal protection for unborn babies.
The leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister, Robert Abela, was asked in a media interview “Are you against abortion and, if so, in all circumstances?” He replied “Against abortion in all circumstances”.
Polling shows no support for introducing abortion to Malta
Polling has consistently shown that Malta is one of the most pro-life countries in the world.
A recent MaltaToday survey showed that 97% of the population opposed unrestricted abortion at whatever stage of pregnancy and 90% of the population in Malta opposed unrestricted abortion being available in the first three months of pregnancy.
Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said
“These academics are right to raise the alarm about such a barbaric legislative proposal that goes far beyond anything the Government had previously indicated.
“The Maltese Government has broken their electoral promise to the people of Malta by introducing this extreme abortion Bill. If this Bill becomes law, it will introduce de facto abortion on demand, for any reason, up to birth in Malta.
“As a result of this unique law and culture, there are likely thousands of people alive today because Malta has not enacted similar legislation to the UK’s Abortion Act. For the people of Malta, these are their sisters, brothers, friends, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins.
“If the Bill becomes law, Malta will go from being the only country in Europe with full protection for the unborn child to having one of the most extreme abortion regimes in the world. Tens of thousands of lives will likely be lost to abortion in Malta. The people of Malta must urgently rise up, take action and ensure that this horrific bill does not become law”.