Metsola vows to represent EP majority voice amid ‘anti-abortion’ flak

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola told MEPs from major groups in the EP that she will represent the 'majority voice' on abortion if elected president of the House, over challenges from French MEPs on her anti-abortion voting record

Even French president Emanuel Macron has been questioned by the French press for his views on the possible election of Robert Metsola to president of the European Parliament
Even French president Emanuel Macron has been questioned by the French press for his views on the possible election of Robert Metsola to president of the European Parliament

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola has told MEPs from major groups in the European Parliament that she will represent the “majority voice” on abortion if elected president of the House, over challenges from French MEPs on her anti-abortion voting record.

With a consistent position in favour of women’s bodily autonomy as a human right, various MEPs and the French press have been vocal about Metsola’s track record on votes dealing with gender equality and reproductive rights, questioning her candidature for the presidency of the European Parliament.

The matter even forced a comment from French president Emanuel Macron, questioned on the issue by journalists during a presentation of his electoral programme.

Metsola has told MaltaToday that if elected as President of the European Parliament, she would respect the majority opinions of the House – whether that be a pro-choice or pro-life opinion. “On sexual and reproductive health and rights, the position of the European Parliament is clear. As President of the Parliament my duty is to represent the view of the Parliament and if I am elected, I will do my duty as I have always done.”

But Maltese MEPs do have a track record of abstaining or voting against parliamentary reports that even hint at abortion – from resolutions on the UN’s millennium development goals, to reports dealing with gender equality and access to abortion services.

An example is the 2015 Tarabella report, which focused on the need to fight poverty and have more women appointed to higher decision-making positions. The Labour delegation had voted in favour of the final resolution, but separately voted against all the clauses referring to abortion.

The Nationalist MEPs – Metsola, David Casa, and Therese Comodini Cachia – voted against the entire resolution, announcing the stand in an official EPP statement saying abortion was their “red line:”.

“We voted against the whole report to underline our strong opposition to abortion and to voice our serious reservations about attempts to encroach on the principle of subsidiarity,” they had said.

More recently, Nationalist MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa were joined by Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba in voting to strike down the Matic report, which called for universal access to safe and legal abortion across the European Union, although the report itself was non-legislative and non-binding.

Metsola argues that her abstentions and votes were always taken with respect to the famous 2003 protocol attached to Malta’s EU accession treaty, a written statement reaffirming that abortion remains the prerogative of Malta’s national parliament. “Maltese MEPs from across the political spectrum have generally voted to respect this protocol and allow the debate to take place in Malta,” she told MaltaToday.

Yet, the prospect of an “anti-abortion” female president of the European Parliament has preoccupied some quarters within the French press especially, where even French president Emanuel Macron was asked for his views on Metsola’s impending election.

“As far as I am concerned, I defend and will always defend to the utmost women’s rights, and in particular that of women to exercise bodily autonomy,” Macron responded to Libération’s Jean Quatremer.

“Even where political forces from all corners of Europe put that right into question and weaken it, I will do everything to oppose it, while respecting the sovereignty of each member state...

“From where I am, I defend these values strongly and I hope everyone can do likewise. But the European Parliament is allowed to choose their own president, and I hope they do so coherently and while staying true to their beliefs.”

Various French MPs, but also MEPs, have also tweeted that they would not support an ‘anti-abortion’ candidate for the EP presidency.

However, some MEPs are taking her party’s anti-abortion stance as reason to not vote for Metsola. The French MEP Bernard Guetta has been reported saying during a Renew meeting with Metsola that a vote for her could be interpreted as a regression of women’s rights.  According to Agence Europe, during the meeting French MEPs “recalled that one of the two women who chaired the EP, the French Simone Veil, had fought for the legalisation of abortion in her country despite her party’s position.

Veil was the first woman to become President of the European Parliament, having held the office from 1979 to 1982. A Holocaust survivor, Veil is best remembered for the 1975 law that legalised abortion and for advancing women’s rights in France as health minister. She died in 2017 at the age of 89, a feminist icon in the French world.

The Green MEP Damien Careme has also declared he will “not vote for an EPP representative who stands against my political convictions on the climate, the Green Deal, migration, democracy, and abortion. This is non-negotiable”.

The Greens have so far not advanced any candidate for the EP presidency, and the jury is out on whether the bloc will be supporting Metsola for president despite co-president Ska Keller’s declarations that it is high time for the EP to have a woman at the helm as president.

And the Left MEP Leïla Chaibi, also French, has argued that Metsola’s election as EP President would be “a disgrace, as women’s right to bodily autonomy is increasingly attacked across Europe.”

The Left are presenting their own candidate for the EP presidency, Sira Rego, with co-president Manon Aubry not failing to point out Rego’s feminist credentials in contrast to Metsola’s anti-abortion record.

Europe is not Malta

While Metsola’s European vocation means her voice as president of the EP requires her to be loyal to the majority position of MEPs, her rise to one of the most powerful posts in the Union’s institutions illustrates the divergent views of her conservative Nationalist Party’s position on abortion.

Abortion remains a taboo issue for a party that has exploited its pro-life credentials among the Catholic electorate, to humiliate opponents who do not share their zealous anti-abortion agenda.

Despite the PN being home to its own liberal faction of voters, recently Opposition leader Bernard Grech issued his clearest declaration yet against party representatives in favour of abortion, in a six-minute tirade on PN radio station Net FM.

The Nationalist leader in fact committed himself to a categorical anti-abortion stance by saying that he would not tolerate anyone representing the party to be in favour of abortion. “The abortion issue is a closed matter. This party was, is, will always be against abortion. It is a clear declaration I have made, that my predecessors have made, and it is our official position as laid down in the statute. Nobody, and I repeat nobody, as long as I am PN leader… will permit anyone to be in favour of abortion and stay in this party or as a representative of the party.”

Grech’s strong comments reflect his long-held position on the issue, despite the presence of more vocal pro-choice members inside the PN. He has accused Labour of weaponising this difference in opinion against the PN, doubling down on his uncompromising stance.

Grech’s categorical statements also opened up questions about self-declared pro-choice candidates like Emma Portelli Bonnici, who are at the forefront of party policy even while espousing pro-choice views on sexual health and reproductive rights.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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