IVF reform: MPs fall in line and march to party tune

Delia’s statements on Sunday stunned many PN insiders who, buoyed by the party’s recent stance on civil liberties, had expected the party leader to not commit himself to a strong stance

The decision by the Nationalist Party leader to come out strongly against amendments proposed to the Embryo Protection Act and in favour of life from conception, has riled the more liberal among party MPs and officials.

Adrian Delia, in a radio interview last Sunday, said that the party’s executive – in a meeting last week – had reaffirmed the PN’s stand in favour of life from conception until its natural end as well as its faith in the family and the need to provide assistance to couples who cannot have children and wish to form a family.

But MaltaToday is informed that the previous Friday meeting of the party executive body ended up with members split practically down the middle, with those in favour of the amendments arguing that the party could not afford to alienate more voters and that it should adopt a more progressive outlook.

Delia’s statements on Sunday stunned many PN insiders who, buoyed by the party’s recent stance on civil liberties, had expected the party leader to not commit himself and thus – they hoped – make the party more appealing to a broader spectrum.

And although the executive agreed to a free vote for PN MPs, dissenters know that to vote against the party line could very well mean the end of their political career.

Parliament will start debating the amendments in a second reading on Tuesday.

MaltaToday sent an SMS message to all 69 members of parliament asking them how they would be voting at the end of the second reading and whether they were in favour of the line adopted by their parties.

It immediately became clear that party lines were clearly delineated with the Labour government MPs all expected to vote in favour of the amendments and the PN MPs voting against (despite a free vote).

After receiving honest personal replies by SMS from a couple of Labour MPs, the remainder quickly started responding using the same cookie-cutter response. It was evident that MPs were advised to respond to any requests from MaltaToday with the following: “1. The amendments have been proposed in accordance with the PL’s electoral proposal, 2. The law is the result of long and extensive discussions within the parliamentary group, 3. The law was approved unanimously by the parliamentary group.” 26 Labour MPs responded with that same exact text.

Health minister Chris Fearne, who penned and is pushing the amendments, said he was proud that all the Labour MPs fully backed the amendments.

“We had a very healthy discussion and the final Bill reflects that,” he said. “The end result is that the amendments have the full backing of all Labour MPs.”

Robert Abela, legal advisor to the Prime Minister, was one of the few who went beyond the party-imposed quote and said that he did not agree that a free vote ought to have been granted to Labour MPs as well.

Kudos to parliamentary secretary Aaron Farrugia, who said that the amendments were the result of a strong and professional process.

“I realise this is a moral issue and what we say must be based on professional information,” he said. “Every politician is elected to work for everyone and may be called upon to make decisions that, although difficult and controversial for some, would change people’s lives.”

Farrugia said this was what motivated his political choices. “There are numerous couples within my circle of friends that will, for the first time, be able to have a baby and start building a family,” he said. “These are true progressive values.”

For the PN, only a handful of MPs bothered to call or respond to the SMS. Hermann Schiavone was one of the few to call back and he said that he would be voting against the amendments because of the value he placed on life from conception.

Another MP who was quick to reply was Beppe Fenech Adami who confirmed he would be voting against the amendments and that he felt all MPs should have been granted a free vote on the matter.

PN leader Adrian Delia said in an SMS that he was in favour of life from conception to the natural end and that he believed in family, the protection of women from objectification and the dignity of persons, as well as the rights of children and the general well-being of society.

“I solicit government to give the necessary time and space for national debate on such delicate matters and not rush this Bill through parliament,” he said.

A party spokesman then sent us an email with what was described as “a common answer of the whole PN Parliamentary Group to the questions sent to the MPs individually regarding the amendments to the Embryo Protection Act”.

The statement reiterated the fact that the party’s executive committee had reconfirmed the party’s position in favour of life from conception to its natural end and noted that existing IVF and subsequent legislation regulating it – the Embryo Protection Act of 2012 – were introduced in Malta by the Nationalist Party in government. `

“These regulations have successfully provided precious assistance to many couples suffering from infertility problems without reneging on the principle of protecting life and safeguarding the human embryo,” the statement said.