It is time to update our abortion laws

As the situation around the sought abortion for the couple Andrea Prudente and Jay Weeldreyer has just safely come to an end in a hospital in Mallorca, Spain, it is time that Malta amends its stance on abortion. Malta has the strictest abortion laws in the world; helping out in or inducing an abortion in the Maltese islands is a criminal offence.

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Malta is the only EU Member State that prohibits all cases of abortion. As illustrated by the worrying case experienced this week, this stance comes at no exception from the highly Catholic and pro-life state, despite some contradictions in potentially not safeguarding life in some cases.

In the case of Ms Prudente, as reported by the Times of Malta, at just 16 weeks into her pregnancy, the 38-year-old US national experienced heavy bleeding and breaking water; the latter incident resulted in no amniotic fluid left inside her womb for her baby to feed off, meaning that the baby had no chance of survival (according to doctors).

However, since the unborn baby still had a detectable heartbeat, doctors in Malta were unable to extract the non-viable foetus due to local laws criminalizing the procurement of a miscarriage. Risking a serious infection or even sepsis, doctors informed Ms Prudente that they may only intervene if either the foetus’ heartbeat fades away, or more likely when her life is at imminent risk due to a life-threatening condition.

The following points explain Malta’s blanket stance on abortion, and are derived from Malta’s Criminal Code:

Whosoever, by any food, drink, medicine, or by violence, or by any other means whatsoever, shall cause the miscarriage of any woman with child, whether the woman be consenting or not, shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term from eighteen months to three years.

Article 241 (1)
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The same punishment shall be awarded against any woman who shall procure her own miscarriage, or who shall have consented to the use of the means by which the miscarriage is procured.

Article 241 (2)

Any physician, surgeon, obstetrician, or apothecary, who shall have knowingly prescribed or administered the means whereby the miscarriage is procured, shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term from eighteen months to four years, and to perpetual interdiction from the exercise of his profession.

Article 243 

This incident culminated with Ms Prudente being airlifted to Spain, where her pregnancy was safely terminated in a hospital in Mallorca, also allowing the couple to grieve the loss of their child in peace as she recovers.

Though this incident has raised an important question: if Malta is so pro-life, why does its current legislation forbid doctors from helping a patient in such a case until her health status regresses to serious risk? This is not pro-life legislation, it is pro-birth legislation.

It is about time that Malta updates its legislation regarding abortion. Whether or not it should remain pro-life or drastically switch to being more pro-choice should not change this fact, only its implementation as to how this change should come about. There is no justifiable reason as to why Ms Prudente should not have received medical treatment here in Malta while she was already here or why doctors could not help her unless she regressed to a critical condition.

This week’s incident has highlighted that in some cases, national legislation does not safeguard lives or help anyone. In this case, it was highly problematic and could have been life-threatening if external forces hadn’t intervened in Ms Prudente’s aid.

The European Union is unable to intervene in this segment of Malta’s legislation due to the annexation of the Protocol on Abortion to Malta’s Accession Treaty to the EU back in 2002 during negotiations to enter the Union – this protocol meant that the EU would have no future legal certainty to change Malta’s strict laws against abortion. Therefore, it is in the full hands of Maltese policymakers to introduce this change.

How legislation should be amended raises multiple questions. Should it be adjusted to prevent similar cases from happening again, should it expand to also make exceptions for cases of rape, incest and severe foetal abnormalities, or should it be decriminalized or even legalised altogether to protect the hundreds of women who take up abortions alone every year?

As Roe v Wade got overturned by the Supreme Court in the United States, Malta should also find itself at a serious crossroads regarding this same issue in the near future.

In light of this situation, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna stated that “if they [doctors] cannot save the baby, no law tells you that the mother will be left to die; including Maltese legislation”.

While Maltese legislation does not explicitly say that mothers in such cases are to be left for dead, we cannot ignore the serious health risk that was nearly imposed on Ms Prudente this week as a result of archaic legislation that clearly did not take into account such cases at the time of writing. While decriminalizing or legalizing abortion may not be the answer, amending our national policies to allow medical intervention before mothers are on the brink of life and death should be a baseline standard for a nation that continually preaches to be pro-life.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and must not be taken as reflective of the official policy or position of A Bird’s Eye View. Any content provided by our authors are of their opinion, and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, race, gender, organisation or person.

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