Malta’s overwhelmingly Roman Catholic majority is the only one of 27 EU nations that still bans abortion for any reason, with laws making it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison for having the procedure or up to four years to help a woman have an abortion. The law, however, is rarely enforced, with the last known case of someone being imprisoned dating back to 1980.
The ruling Labor Party bill introduces a new clause in the country’s penal code allowing for termination of pregnancy if the mother’s life is in danger or her health is seriously threatened. Performing an abortion in such cases would no longer be considered a crime.
“Clearly the spirit of this law is that no part of the law should impede or impede healthcare professionals from saving lives,” Health Minister Chris Fearne told The Associated Press afterward. presentation of the bill to Parliament.
The Labor-led government enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament, suggesting that passage of the bill in one form or another was likely. The opposition Nationalist Party did not immediately comment on the proposal.
Malta is one of the few western states to completely ban abortion, after the republic of San Marino decriminalized the procedure last year and other predominantly Catholic countries like Ireland and Italy have legalized. Poland last year introduced a near-total ban on abortion, except when a woman’s life or health is in danger or if the pregnancy results from rape or incest. The Maltese Bill does not provide an exception for rape or incest.
Malta’s strict laws were thrown into the spotlight last summer when an American tourist vacationing on the island, Andrea Prudente, suffered profuse bleeding followed by premature rupture of the amniotic sac and separation of the placenta. Her partner, Jay Weeldreyer, said at the time that she was at risk of contracting a life-threatening infection if the fetal tissue was not quickly removed. While Malta Hospital watched her carefully for any signs of infection, they were unable to perform the operation to complete the miscarriage. Prudente was then airlifted to a hospital on the Spanish island of Mallorca.
Prudente then filed a lawsuit in Maltese courts arguing that the country’s ban violated international law. The case is in the early stages of evidence, according to his attorney, Dr. Lara Dimitrijevic.
Separately, at least two legal protests have been filed in Maltese courts demanding the legalization of abortion, including one by the Women’s Rights Foundation, which claimed the country’s outright ban violated basic human rights of Maltese women. of childbearing age. Another was filed in response to the Prudente case by Doctors for Choice, a nonprofit organization of medical professionals that advocates for safe and legal access to reproductive services, including abortion.
“We are very pleased that the government has heard our calls, and those of the 135 doctors who signed a legal protest last June, to end the dangerous situation in which pregnant women find themselves in Malta,” said the co -founder of Doctors for Choice, Dr. Natalie Psaila.
But she said that was not enough. “Abortion must be completely decriminalized, as well as be available for other health reasons such as in cases of child pregnancy, rape or fatal fetal abnormalities.”
The group estimated that at least 300 women in Malta have abortions each year, either by traveling to countries where abortion is legal or by obtaining abortion pills.
Malta had been criticized by the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatović, for its abortion policy. In a February report, Mijatović said “unfettered access to sexual and reproductive health care” was essential to safeguarding women’s rights to health and to be free from discrimination.
“Malta’s total ban on abortions puts these rights at risk,” she said.
She “strongly urged” the Maltese authorities to repeal provisions criminalizing abortion and to expand women’s access to legal and safe abortion.