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Malta: Government's backtrack on abortion bill will endanger lives

Amnesty International activists stage abortion rights protest in the Netherlands © 2022 Pierre Crom

Parliament partially decriminalises abortion  

Malta and Andorra are the only countries in Europe with total bans on abortion

‘It is deeply disappointing that the Government has chosen to backtrack from last year’s initial proposal to decriminalise abortion on health grounds’ - Elisa De Pieri

The Maltese authorities’ decision to water down a version of a bill aimed at partially decriminalising abortion in cases of grave risk to the life or health of women, girls and people will endanger lives, Amnesty International said following the bills’ adoption by Parliament today (28 June).

Under the new law, a doctor may terminate a pregnancy if the person’s life is at immediate risk and before ‘foetal viability’. In addition, doctors will be required to refer pregnant people whose health is in grave jeopardy which may lead to death to a three-doctor medical panel before they are granted access to an abortion. Cases of grave risk to health that are ‘not life-threatening’ are excluded from the decriminalisation bill.  

Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty International’s Europe Researcher, said:

“It is deeply disappointing that the government has chosen to backtrack from last year’s initial proposal to decriminalise abortion on health grounds. This reckless bill is a U-turn that fails to protect pregnant people’s health and lives.

“While the Government has finally recognised that access to abortion services is necessary to save lives, this new law will create dangerous barriers and delays for pregnant women, girls and people in urgent need of – and with a right to – medical treatment.  

“Requiring the approval of three specialists before access to an abortion is granted could create fatal delays and discourage doctors from putting forward the case which could have fatal consequences.

“We demand guaranteed access to safe and legal abortion for all.”

Malta's abortion law

In November, the Government proposed an amendment to the Criminal Code (Bill 28) aimed at freeing doctors and pregnant people from the threat of criminal prosecution ‘when the termination of a pregnancy is carried out to protect the life or health of a pregnant woman from grave jeopardy’. Under the revised bill, abortion in all other circumstances will remain illegal, flying in the face of Malta’s international human rights law obligations and violating human rights. 

In June last year, a US national experiencing a miscarriage in Malta was denied an abortion, despite being at risk of infection and suffering serious mental health consequences due to the criminalisation of abortion. On Monday, however, a restrictive amendment to the original proposal for decriminalisation was tabled and passed at the committee stage, significantly increasing the number of circumstances in which an abortion would remain a criminal offence.  

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