No mandate to open debate on abortion, Joseph Muscat tells human rights commissioner

Council of Europe human rights commissioner urges Malta to facilitate access to safe and legal abortion in letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

The Council of Europe human rights commissioner wants Malta to facilitate access to abortion
The Council of Europe human rights commissioner wants Malta to facilitate access to abortion

Nils Muižnieks, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, has called for the “prohibition regime” on abortion in Malta to be addressed through an open and informed public debate.

Muižnieks recommended that abortion be decriminalised and access to safe and legal abortion care on a woman’s request be facilitated. The recommendation was included in a follow-up letter he sent to the Prime Minister after visiting Malta last November.

Muižnieks also urged Malta to eradicate violence against women by ensuring that legal changes are backed up by action on the ground.

The Prime Minister’s reply, which almost exclusively focussed on the government’s efforts to combat gender-based violence, included just one sentence on abortion.

“My government neither has the political mandate to open a debate on access to abortion, nor the support of the public opinion on this matter,” Muscat told Muižnieks.

The letters were published on Tuesday morning.

Muscat said despite sexual and reproductive health rights were sensitive issues in Malta, emergency contraception was introduced at the end of 2016 and is sold over the counter.

The Prime Minister also noted that the age of sexual consent was being lowered to 16 while the Embryo Protection Act that regulates in-vitro fertilisation, will be changed to remove certain restrictions that prevent lesbian couples and others from accessing the treatment.

On domestic violence, Muscat said the new law currently before Parliament includes emergency powers to the police to remove the perpetrators of domestic violence from the family home. He said penalties under the new law will be harsher and court cases will have to continue even if the victim pardons the perpetrator.

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