On 28 June, Malta’s Parliament adopted a new law, known as Bill 28, intended originally to increase protection for women by allowing abortion care in exceptional cases. However, the final version of the law specifies that abortion is only allowed when a woman is at risk of dying and denies life-saving care to a person experiencing an obstetric emergency unless she is in a licenced hospital and has the consent of a panel of three specialists. This is a devastating step backwards in the only European Union country to have a total ban on abortion in all circumstances.
“The new law introduces dangerous and insurmountable obstacles to saving women’s lives, given that obstetric emergencies are very fast-moving situations in which you can die without rapid medical intervention – as we have seen in Poland, Ireland and Italy when access to abortion care was withheld until it was too late,” said IPPF EN’s Irene Donadio.
The adoption of Bill 28 is all the more shocking given that the government’s objective when it announced the reform in 2022 was to ensure a bare minimum of access to abortion care in cases where a woman’s life or health was at severe risk*. Pro-choice doctors and activists in Malta had supported a bill that aimed to lessen just slightly the longstanding stranglehold of the law on pregnant women**.
Instead, as a result of ultraconservative anti-choice opposition to women’s reproductive freedom and safety, the protections of the initial proposal were subsequently watered down to the point that on 23 June, prochoice doctors associations and groups for women rights withdrew their support for the bill. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights echoed their concerns on 26 June, calling for the Maltese parliament to pause and reflect to avoid steps backwards. But calls to change course were not heard.
“This backtracking, and the subsequent adoption this week of a bill that not only fails to protect, but actively exacerbates the existing harm done to women by Malta’s medieval abortion legislation, is a humiliating miscalculation by the ruling party. The government has handed victory to Malta’s reproductive bullies on a plate,” continued Donadio.
“The terrifying result of the government’s botched political move is that women can die under their watch. People will be deterred from visiting Malta, seeing that its leaders have doubled down on denying emergency medical care to anyone suffering an obstetric emergency. The only people to gain new protections are certain doctors who are afraid to shoulder responsibility for the lives of their patients. If the government wants to make the situation less desperate, it must decriminalise abortion so that at least women can take their health and lives into their own hands, with the support of brave pro-choice doctors and networks, and without the fear of prosecution,” she added.
*In 2022, facing scrutiny due to the high-profile emergency evacuation from Malta of Andrea Prudente, an American tourist undergoing a life-threatening miscarriage, the government proposed to amend the law to introduce a minimum of protection for women.
**The original draft bill proposed to legalise abortion in cases where a woman’s health was at grave risk.
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