135 doctors sign judicial protest to strike down abortion ban

Doctors want to remove an article from the Criminal Code that subjects them to prison time for performing an abortion

Malta's pro-choice movement has become more vocal over the past few years as it challenges the country's blanket abortion ban (File photo)
Malta's pro-choice movement has become more vocal over the past few years as it challenges the country's blanket abortion ban (File photo)

135 doctors in Malta have signed a judicial protest requesting the removal of the country’s blanket ban on abortion.

The judicial protest was filed on Monday morning and comes after Mater Dei Hospital refused to terminate the unviable pregnancy of American tourist Andrea Prudente. She had to be flown to Spain to terminate the pregnancy and avoid the risk of sepsis.

Doctors are asking for the removal of Article 243 of the Laws of Malta so that medical professionals will no longer be criminalised when a patient needs to terminate their pregnancy.

The article in question concerns physicians, surgeons, obstetricians or apothecaries who knowingly perform abortion or prescribe the means by which an abortion can be carried out. Such medical professionals could be subject to a maximum four year prison sentence and perpetual interdiction from their profession.

The protest was filed against the Prime Minister, Health Minister, Parliamentary Secretary for Reform and Equality, and the State Advocate.

In their protest, doctors said they felt aggrieved that abortion in Malta is not only criminalised against women who need to terminate their pregnancy, but also criminalises medical doctors.

It is in this regard that the doctors said that the blanket ban is having a direct impact on their work and according to their Code of Ethics.

“This criminalisation is not only prohibiting women from receiving immediate medical care, but also is prohibiting the protestants from providing immediate and timely care, and that such delay is putting the life and health of pregnant women in danger,” the judicial protest reads.

The protest follows the Prudente case. Prudente was on holiday in Gozo with her partner and was denied an abortion after suffering a miscarriage. The foetus had no chance of survival after her waters broke prematurely at 16 weeks, emptying the womb of amniotic fluid. However, since the foetus’s heartbeat could still be detected, the doctors did not terminate the pregnancy.

In a statement to the press, Doctors for Life, an anti-abortion lobby group, criticised the judicial protest since it did not call for refinement of the law but its complete removal. The group also said that doctors signing the judicial letter were not automatically shown the judicial letter itself or given a full explanation of what was being requested.

The judicial protest was signed by gynaecologist Isabel Stabile and other doctors, comprising a range of specialisations, including obstetrics and gynaecology, family medicine, psychiatry and paediatrics. The signatories also include a few hospital consultants.

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