Labour MEP makes plea for abortion to become fundamental right in EU Charter

Cyrus Engerer calls for the introduction of abortion to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in Brussels debate that follows French constitutional enshrinement

Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer
Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer

Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer billed himself the first Maltese in Brussels to have spoken in favour of women’s full bodily autonomy, in an impassioned intervention to a debate calling for abortion to become a fundamental right in the European Charter of fundamental rights.

Engerer, who has not yet committed himself to a re-election campaign for the 2024 elections, quoted various experiences of anonymous women who had to carry out illegal abortions in Malta due to domestic violence, rape, or illness.

“All these women have names, but if they speak out it will mean three years’ imprisonment in Malta simply for their crime to survive. 500 women in Malta have an unsafe abortion at home every year. “Bodily autonomy is fundamental for everyone, as well as trans women,” Engerer said.

Engerer recently joined a protest by Maltese abortion activists in Malta demanding that the right to women’s own bodies be respected.

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Malta is one of the few European countries where abortion remains illegal in almost all circumstances, including cases of rape and incest, making it one of the strictest in the world. Consequently, it forces Maltese women to seek unsafe procedures abroad.

Opening the debate in Brussels on Thursday morning, Elisa Ferreira, European commissioner for cohesion and reforms, spoke on behalf of Maltese Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli, who was in New York on official duties. “When making use of their competencies member states must respect international law, but the European Commission will continue to support civil society groups in their fight for rights,” she said.

Renew MEP Karen Melchior said access to abortion was not just about human rights, but also a question of healthcare. “We need access to abortion across all member state,” she said.  Melchior singled out Malta, which bans abortion for women, saying the European Parliament recognised the challenges faced by Maltese women. “Women of Malta – we see you, we are with you.”

In July 2023, the Maltese government introduced Bill 28 with an initially-claimed aim to soften the abortion ban by permitting the procedure in situations posing a serious risk to a pregnant woman’s health. But in a watered-down law, a doctor can only terminate a pregnancy if the person’s life is at “immediate risk”, but in cases of grave danger women are referred to a three-doctor medical panel for permission for abortion.

Activists insist this approach jeopardises women’s lives by introducing potential fatal delays, where crucial time may be lost.

MEPs’ resolution

France has now made abortion a constitutional right, and remains a key plank of the Macron presidency.

In 2022, MEPs pushed for the right to legal and safe abortion to be included in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, shortly after French president Emmanuel Macron pledged to open such a debate in the EU Council.

While Malta is the only country where abortion is completely prohibited, Poland imposed in 2020 a near-total ban, triggering mass protests across the country.

The EU does not have a say over sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion. Member states are responsible for the definition of their public health policy and the EU only has complimentary competence, limited to encouraging cooperation between member states.

European President Roberta Metsola was also grilled on this topic following her ascension to the Presidential seat. Metsola, who has a track record of voting against reproductive rights, agreed to sig up to the Simone Veil pact, the first aim of which is to guarantee “women’s access to contraception and abortion, as well as to information and education.

Post-SCOTUS: Is Malta’s abortion ban stronger or weaker?

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