Maltese parliament set to ban forced sterilisation

MPs from both sides of the House at Second Reading stage unanimously approve Bill that bans forced and involuntary sterilisation • Inclusion Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli calls it a historic day

Parliament has approved at Second Reading stage a Bill banning forced sterilisation (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Parliament has approved at Second Reading stage a Bill banning forced sterilisation (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Malta is on course to ban forced and involuntary sterilisation with parliament kicking off a debate on legislation proposed by Inclusion Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli.

No such law exists today, making Malta one of 11 EU countries that do not ban forced sterilisation.

The proposal will ban forced sterilisation in all situations but doctors will be allowed to sterilise a patient when their life or health are in serious danger. Adults will also be able to get sterilised if they give free and informed consent.

Introducing the debate on Wednesday, Farrugia Portelli called it a historic day for the dignity of persons with mental disabilities. “No one would be able to decide for them on matters as serious as this,” she said.

The Opposition is supporting the Bill and it passed unanimously at Second Reading stage.

Authorities were aware of at least one case in 2016 of forced sterilisation, the minister said. The case involved a woman with a mental disability who underwent a procedure of tubal ligation without her consent.

Farrugia Portelli said forced sterilisation violated human rights and the Istanbul Convention.

She cited examples from abroad where HIV-positive women were forcefully sterilised not to have babies with HIV. “This is unacceptable… There are several forms of long-term contraception but no one should be denied the right to ultimately have children.”

The proposed law provides that whosoever surgically removes or disables a child or an adult's reproductive organs without free and informed consent, leading to sterilisation, shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for five to nine years, and to a fine of between €8,000 and €20,000. Accomplices, including anyone who assists in the procurement of the procedure, will be liable to the same penalties.

The law will also prevent parents or legal guardians from giving consent for such a procedure on children under the age of 18 except when deemed medically necessary by a doctor. To date, parents and guardians have been able to decide to sterilise people with mental disabilities with no restrictions.

Anyone convicted of carrying out or being an accomplice in the procedure while also resorting to the use of force, deceit, fraud, bribery, false pretences, coercion or threats will be subject to more severe punishment. 

However, the law will allow adults to undergo sterilisation to prevent pregnancies or for health reasons as long as they give informed and free consent.

Surprisingly, only women MPs from both sides of the House spoke in the debate, prompting the minister to urge her male counterparts not to shy away from getting involved in sensitive subjects that involved sexuality.

The Bill now moves to committee stage where the law is dissected and any amendments are introduced.