Predominantly Catholic pro-lifers in Malta have welcomed a government decision to back down on a bill which would have allowed abortion when the mother's health was at serious risk, saying instead that terminations would only be allowed when the mother's life was in danger.
It follows publication of the government’s revised version of changes to the Criminal Code relating to pregnant mothers and unborn babies.
“This new version of the amendment is a great relief to all of us, so we can get back to our primary work of helping mothers in crisis situation, with rebuilding their lives and caring for their children,” commented Dr Miriam Sciberras, CEO of Life Network Foundation.
Malta is the only country in the European Union which does not allow abortion, and the original bill had raised a storm of protest, with anti-abortion campaigners saying the definition of what constituted a health risk was too wide.
Dr Sciberras added:
“The voice of the people of Malta has been very clear: we are a pro-life nation, valuing every life, the mother that deserves our utmost protection especially when in difficulty, the unborn child that today we have saved, thanks to this new version of the legislation, we will continue to do this”.
Local media had reported that the country's president, George Vella, had told the government he would resign rather than sign the bill as originally drafted into law.
The reports were never denied and Vella had made his disquiet publicly known, repeatedly appealing for a revision of the text.
The coalition claimed that the Government’s redrafting of the amendment was a direct result of 25,000 people emailing the Prime Minister, Minister of Health, and the MPs of their District, together with the more than 20,000 people who demonstrated against the changes in the capital of the island, Valletta.
Health Minister Chris Fearne said the bill was being amended so that termination could only take place in a situation where a mother's life was in danger, once all other possible treatment had been exhausted.
That procedure must be agreed by three doctors and may only take place in a licensed clinic.
At present, a doctor is liable to up to four years in jail if he terminates a pregnancy to save the mother's life.
Abortion will remain illegal under all other circumstances including rape, incest and severe foetal abnormalities.
The reform was drawn up after a U.S. tourist, Andrea Prudente, was refused a request in June 2022 to terminate a non-viable pregnancy after she began to bleed profusely.
Her doctors said her life was at risk and she was eventually transferred to Spain where she had an abortion.
The bill as revised is expected to be approved by parliament in the coming weeks.