PM in strong defence of abortion reform, says women’s health is not negotiable

Robert Abela invokes the ghosts of reforms past, from divorce to marriage equality, in his defence of abortion legislation

Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: Partit Laburista)
Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: Partit Laburista)

Women’s health is non-negotiable, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Sunday, as he recalled past reforms on civil liberties to defend government’s next reform on abortion legislation.

During a political activity in Fgura on Sunday, Abela listed through several reforms that the Nationalist Party campaigned against over the years.

“If they’re comfortable, everyone’s comfortable. They do not care about people, only themselves,” he said.

He recalled how the members of the Nationalist Party had said that the 2014 Marriage Equality Bill would end up abolishing Mother’s Day.

“When we were discussing divorce some even said that the Virgin Mary appeared to them and told them not to introduce divorce,” he said, a reference to alleged apparitions of the Holy Virgin to Birżebbuġa mystic Anġelik Caruana back in 2010.

Abela went on to mention the notorious interdiction, which saw Catholic Labour voters buried in an unconsecrated part of the Addolorata cemetery nicknamed ‘il-Miżbla’ (the ‘dump).

“They believed that, when they buried out forefathers in the Miżbla, they were invoking some divine right to do so. They believe that what they pontificate should be forced onto everyone except themselves.”

As he turned onto abortion, Abela insisted on emphasising the health of the prospective mother as well as the life.

“If a mother, your daughter, your sister, has their life or health in danger, then we have a duty to save their life and health. It’s clear.”

He still maintained that abortion will remain illegal, with government retaining the legal clause that criminalises abortion under all circumstances. “If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re not telling you the truth.”

Abela also turned onto the situation of Andrea Prudente, the pregnant American tourist whose waters broke prematurely whilst on holiday in Malta. Her pregnancy became non-viable, but doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy because her life wasn’t in immediate risk.

The Prime Minister admitted that her life, up until that point, was not at risk. However, the pregnancy was not viable, and she was at risk of developing a serious infection if the foetus wasn’t removed.

It was Prudente’s health case that prompted government to review the local laws and identify whether some parts of the law hinder doctors and medical professionals from carrying out their duty to save lives and protect health.

As part of the review, the state Advocate found that the abortion clause can hinder their work when it comes to carrying out medical interventions that protect the woman but could terminate the pregnancy.

Abela said that the usual practice in Malta’s Mater Dei Hospital was that the mother’s life comes first. However, the law did not protect this practice.

“While there’s no doubt on the good motive of doctors wanting to carry out such interventions, there was a clear breach of the law in this practice.”

He explained that doctors would ask the Attorney General for immunity on a case-by-case basis if they wanted to carry out an intervention that led to the termination of a pregnancy.

But Abela insisted that there will still be an obligation to save the mother and foetus wherever possible. If the foetus can live safely outside the womb, then doctors would remove the foetus through a caesarean section and treat the mother as needed.

“The health of a woman isn’t an object to negotiate with,” he insisted.

Labour Party president Ramona Attard also addressed the crowd at the political activity in Fgura.

She recalled several conversations with prospective mothers who suffered miscarriages or medical complications during their pregnancy.

One woman she spoke to, who lives and works abroad, had told Attard that she had to terminate her pregnancy because of a serious medical intervention. “She said, for once, she was happy to be living outside of Malta.”

In another case, a woman underwent three rounds of IVF. When she eventually became pregnant, she found out that the pregnancy was not viable. “She had to carry the pregnancy until there wasn’t a heartbeat,” she said. “She had to give birth to a dead child.”

“This woman told me to emphasise that we’re talking about wanted children who are loved by us. A pregnancy is terminated when there’s no other choice.”

She warned Opposition leader Bernard Grech to not underestimate these women. “The women who have passed through these traumas aren’t victims but survivors.”

“Just because these women don’t scream and shout the way you did in Parliament doesn’t mean they aren’t strong.”

She also warned people who have signed a petition being circulated against this amendment to understand with whom they’re associating themselves.

Attard even claimed that some medical professionals who have come out against the legal amendments had actually referred some of their patients abroad to terminate their pregnancy.