[WATCH] First reactions to Malta’s abortion decriminalisation bill

First reactions to a historic Bill to decriminalise abortion in Malta, one of a few countries in the world and the only EU State to completely ban the termination of pregnancy

First reactions to Malta’s abortion decriminalisation bill

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

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.

What were the first reactions to the Bill?

Carmel Cacopardo, leader of Green Party ADPD, said this was a major step forward in Malta’s abortion debate. “To have the courage to discuss something like this is essential. As a country we have been avoiding the discussion for years. Marlene’s step forward in the House today gives this debate a new direction. Much is left to do. This is just the first step. It is necessary to lift the fear of discussing this. Only in this way we can move forward.”

Life Network Foundation, the pro life lobby, said it was “shocked beyond belief”. “The law is there to make a statement. Decriminalisation (means) abortion is not wrong. Decriminalisation is the platform to bring in abortion in Malta. It is very clear. Do not be decieved.

A vociferous ‘no’ came from the Labour Party’s TV station’s chairman Jason Micallef, who is the CEO of the Valletta Cultural Foundation, who bluntly said Farrugia should “get stuffed”.

“Get stuffed Marlene Farrugia. Nothing would suit you better. Everyone is now trying to be progressive on the most serious of matters without any discussion on such serious and sensitive matters. It’s as if it’s some trade fair. Cannabis legalisation, abortion... what next? No to abortion.”

(As it happens, Micallef’s beloved administration is pushing for cannabis decriminalisation laws as well as for the legalisation of prostitution, as part of its civil liberties package of reforms).

Desirée Attard, a Labour government policy advisor on human rights and reforms and former deputy mayor of Marsascala, had a more nuanced position, calling on pro-choice comrades to be “wary of conservatives bearing gifts”.

“A brief read through of the proposed Bill clearly shows the dangers of entrusting anti-choice MPs with crucial reforms for gender equality. At the very end, the Bill states the following: ‘Wilful abortion is covered by Articles 225 and 266 of the Criminal Code which concern involuntary homicide and harm of a person.’ This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent, implying that abortion and homicide are one and the same (they are not). Had they been the same, abortion would carry the same punishment.

“Let’s legalise abortion, yes, but with a sound law and an even stronger sexual health policy. MPs running amok are not the way to do this.”

Prof. Isabel Stabile from Doctors for Choice described the bill as a first for women in Malta, saying that it is the fruit of a lot of work carried out by pro-choice lobbies.

“There is no reason why women should go to jail if they do something which they decided to do and that is in their best interest, whatever that might be,” she said.

On the way forward for the pro-choice movement, Stabile said that more lobbying will be needed/

“I think we need to continue our lobbying. This is what we have been doing as Doctors for Choice for two years, and as Voice for Choice even longer. As a coalition we need to continue to lobby, and we should do this not only nationally but also internationally.”

Lara Dimitrijevic, director of Women’s Rights Foundation, said that the bill was completely unprecedented.

“It’s about time that something of the sort has been done. Women have long been suffering, women continue to suffer and I think COVID-19, if nothing else, has highlighted how much women have suffered through this process,” she said.

She thanked Marlene Farrugia and Godfrey Farrugia for tabling the bill, and called on government to take the bill on board.

“[If ignored] it would be a message that women continue to be second-class citizens in this country. This piece of legislation, the criminalisation of abortion, specifically targets a gender, which is women, nobody else.”

“A government that is progressive and claims to be progressive should and ought not to ignore this bill.”

Emily Galea, a committee member of Young Progressive Beings, described it as "a historical day for Malta, for social progress and for women’s rights here”.

“It’s taken way too long, but we’re glad that a bill has finally been proposed. It’s surprising that it’s taken this long, especially as part of the EU. Nonetheless, we celebrate today.”

She said that abortion has become a heavily politicised topic, saying that this is not a political issue but a medical one.

“This is something that we really want to push and say this is not a social issue, it’s a medical one. And really and truly, politicians have no place in discussing this as much as doctors do.”

However, she said that YPB acknowledge their significance and influence in decriminalising abortion, and would support politicians who speak out in favour of this.