Maltese Legislators Approve Bill to Relax Abortion Laws

Malta, the only country in the European Union that outright prohibited abortion, is set to undergo a significant change as legislators have uniformly approved a bill to relax its strictest abortion laws. The previous legislation made abortion a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment, although enforcement has been rare, with the last known imprisonment occurring over four decades ago in 1980.

The new law, while a departure from the absolute ban, maintains strict conditions under which abortion can be performed. According to the amendments, a physician can only terminate a pregnancy without specialist consultation if the mother’s life is in imminent danger. The original bill, which faced strong opposition, had allowed abortions when a woman’s life or health was in peril. However, under the revised law, access to abortion will be limited to cases where a woman’s life is at immediate risk, and the assent of three specialists is required.

Support for the bill was divided among political factions. The ruling Labor party backed the amendments, highlighting the importance of providing a legal framework for cases of severe endangerment to the mother’s life. On the other hand, the opposition initially resisted the bill but ultimately consented to support it after modifications were made to address their concerns.

The Voices for Choice coalition, a group consisting of fourteen pro-choice organizations, however, withdrew its support for the amendments, considering them “a betrayal.” The coalition argues that the stringent requirements introduced in the revised law will effectively limit access to safe and legal abortions for Maltese women, especially those facing serious health complications during pregnancy.

While the changes mark a significant shift in Malta’s stance on abortion, they fall short of meeting the demands of pro-choice activists who advocate for broader reproductive rights. The approval of the bill has ignited a heated debate within the country, with supporters of the legislation viewing it as a step towards providing necessary medical interventions to save women’s lives, while opponents argue that it still imposes unnecessary obstacles on individuals seeking abortions.