Marlene Farrugia presents abortion decriminalisation bill in historic first

Independent MP Marlene Farrugia presents Speaker with amendment Bill to strike off Criminal Code’s sanctions on abortion

Independent MP Marlene Farrugia
Independent MP Marlene Farrugia

A historic Bill to decriminalise abortion in Malta has been filed in parliament by independent MP Marlene Farrugia.

“It makes absolutely no sense,” Farrugia said, “that a woman looking for self-determination, looking for medical intervention, ends up being criminalised and condemned instead of being offered help.”

Farrugia said that the COVID-19 pandemic allowed her to reflect on the health struggles faced by women, saying that Malta needs better awareness on women’s needs in today’s society, including medical and sexual education needs, to increase the quality of life among women in Malta.

“I feel that this should be the platform from which we go forward, so that all women push an agenda for health structures that support women from birth […] till old age, so that we can create a better life not just for women or children, […] but for all society.”

While emphasising the need for women to have a choice in what happens with their body, she feels no need to put a label on her position.

"I see no conflict between pro-life and pro-choice. For me, this divison between pro-life and pro-choice was created to divide women. The aim should be singular: to create a real choice for women on how they live their life. To create a real choice on how women determine the passage of their life at different stages,” she said.

Malta is one of a few countries in the world and the only EU State to completely ban the termination of pregnancy.

The Bill was presented in the House on Wednesday just after question time. Any decision on when or if the Bill will eventually be debated in parliament would have to be made by the House Business Committee.

The move comes as a bolt from the blue: Farrugia was never known to be a pro-choice politician. Indeed, her last official party statement as a Democratic Party MP on abortion  was that the party was “pro-life” and toyed with the words “pro-choice” by claiming that women “should have a real choice against terminating an unwanted pregnancy” by proposing adoption for unwanted children.

In 2011, she had also come out against the legalisation of divorce, in a divorce referendum triggered by a private members Bill, coincidentally filed by her former husband, the Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando. She then went on to vote in favour of the law after the referendum result.

The Bill she has presented calls for the decriminalisation of abortion and to ensure no person or medical professional is criminalised “for the choice pertaining to their medical health and/or the provision of medical assistance. Such criminalisation is discriminatory.”

The amendment Bill calls for the striking off of Article 241(1) of the Criminal Code, which outlaws the ‘procuring of a miscarriage’, which carries a prison conviction of up to three years for women.

The Bill also demands the striking off of Article 242, which holds anyone assisting the abortion to the punishment for wilful homicide or wilful bodily harm, diminished by one to two degrees; Article 242 which holds any medical professional who administers “the means whereby the miscarriage is procured” liable to imprisonment of four years; Article 243(a), which holds anyone who causes an abortion by “unskilfulness in his art of profession” liable to a fine of up to €2,329.

The Bill asks that articles 242 and 243(a) are substituted with a 10-year imprisonment for whoever carries out a forced, non-consensual abortion for non-medical reasons “by means of violence, force, deceit, bribery, threats or coercion”.

Looking back at 2020 | Women take the lead in abortion debate
MaltaToday Survey | No change in Malta’s anti-abortion attitudes

Farrugia was a former Labour MP who broke ranks with the party over its environmental and planning authority demerger. She later formed the Democratic Party after 2016, which was included in the PN list of candidates in the 2017 election.

She won re-election and her party secured a second seat by casual election. She later resigned from the PD together with her partner, and former Labour Whip Godfrey Farrugia, to become independent MPs. They have indicated they will not stand for re-election.

All of Malta’s major political parties are against abortion, despite the existence of pro-choice voices.

Even ADPD, the Green Party which merged with PD after the Farrugias’ resignations, does not have an official pro-choice position.

According to a 2019 survey by MaltaToday, 90.2% oppose unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with 5.2% in favour.

Malta’s President of the Republic, George Vella, who signs off on laws passed by the House of Representatives, is also pro-life, having once declared that “promoting abortion as a reproductive right simply does not follow any human rights logic.”

Malta held its first pro-choice rally in 2018 on Safe Abortion Day, by a coalition of pro-choice groups that today include the Women’s Rights Foundation, as well as pro-choice professionals Doctors For Choice and Allied Health Professionals For Choice.

In 2019, a MaltaToday Survey found a majority of 45.5% disagree with abortion if a mother’s life is in danger, an upswing of almost 19 points since another poll in February 2018.

Nonetheless, this remained the circumstance in which abortion was most agreeable with 37.4% supporting the termination of a pregnancy, which represented a drop of eight points since 2018.

Another significant change was a seven-point increase in the opposition to abortion in cases of rape. Those who oppose pregnancy termination in this circumstance stood at 78.5%.

But unlike the circumstance when a woman’s life is in danger, those who agreed with abortion in rape cases remained relatively static at 14.6%.