Bishops in Malta warn politicians not to ease Europe's strictest abortion laws

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By Euronews, Reuters
Protesters carry placards and walk through Valletta's streets during an abortion rights rally on September 25, 2022 in Valletta, Malta.
Protesters carry placards and walk through Valletta's streets during an abortion rights rally on September 25, 2022 in Valletta, Malta.   -  Copyright  Joanna Demarco/2022 Getty Images/AP Photo

On Friday, Malta's bishops warned parliamentarians not to back a bill aimed at easing the country's abortion laws, the strictest in the European Union.

In an open letter, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and bishops Joseph Galea Curmi and Anton Teuma wrote that the bill removing the risk of criminal action against doctors who perform an abortion to save a patient's life would allow people to terminate their pregnancies not only when their life is in danger, but also for any health issue.

"This means abortion [...] Human life should not be killed to safeguard somebody's health," the archbishop and bishops wrote. The statement will be read in churches across the country this weekend.

In the Mediterranean island nation, abortion is banned under any circumstance, even when the health or the life of the pregnant person is in danger. A doctor performing an abortion, even if it's to save a person's life, can be barred from practising and punished with imprisonment for up to four years. 

Despite calls to decriminalise abortion in the country in recent years, the Catholic island nation has remained firm in its opposition to the medical procedure. But the case of an American tourist who was denied a life-saving abortion after miscarrying while on holiday in Malta this summer has profoundly shaken the country, leading lawmakers to suggest changes in the legislation.

After American tourist Andrea Prudente was safely transferred to Spain, where she was allowed to terminate her non-viable abortion, a group of 135 doctors signed a legal protest calling for the country's lawmakers to review Malta's blanket abortion ban.

In September, two months after she found herself stranded in Malta, Prudente sued the Maltese government, calling on the courts to declare that banning abortion in all circumstances breaches human rights. The case has not yet come to trial.

Earlier this month, the country's government drafted a new law allowing doctors to perform abortions in case of risks to the life and health of pregnant patients. Malta's Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Labour Party Robert Abela backs the new bill, although he has specified that abortion remains illegal in the country and the new legislation should not be abused. 

The new legislation, which has already passed through one reading in parliament last week and will go through a second reading on Monday is likely to pass thanks to the Labour Party's majority. 

But the Christian democratic, conservative Nationalist Party remains a vocal opponent to the new legislation, together with the church. Abela has accused the party of scaremongering by suggesting the new bill could be used to allow abortions in less serious health conditions than the one stated by the legislation.