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Malta's Abortion Law

One of the aims of Doctors for Choice is to campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion in Malta. This may sound like a complex concept, but it's actually rather simple. At the moment, women who have abortions in Malta, except in the very limited instances allowed by law, could face a maximum of three years in prison. Doctors who help women have abortions in Malta outside the very limited instances allowed by law, face a maximum of four years in jail and a permanent revocation of their licence. Malta's Criminal Code (Criminal Law) states:

Article 241 (1) 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 (2) 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 243 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.’

These articles that criminalise abortion have been in force since the 1800s. In June 2023, for the first time in Malta's modern history, an Act of Parliament (Act XXII of 2023) added two legal grounds for abortion.

Legal abortion when a woman has a medical complication which may put her life at immediate risk

 

Article 243B.  No offence under sub-article (2) of article 241or article 243 shall be committed when the cessation of a pregnancy or damage to the foetus results from a medical intervention carried out for the purpose of saving the life and protecting the health of a pregnant woman suffering from a medical complication which may put her life at immediate risk or her health in grave jeopardy which may lead to death:

Provided  that  the  exemption  from  criminal responsibility by virtue of this article shall apply only when after having considered the medical practices current in Malta circumstances of necessity still subsist which dictate that the medical intervention be carried out and if the following conditions are fulfilled:

(a)  in  the  case  of  a  pregnant  woman suffering from a medical complication which may put  her  life  at  immediate  risk  the  medical intervention  is  done  when  in  the  reasonable opinion of the medical practitioner carrying out the  intervention  the  foetus  has  not  reached  the period of viability.

Legal abortion when a woman has a medical complication that places her health in grave jeopardy which may lead to death

(b)  in the case of a medical intervention carried out due to a medical complication which places the health of a pregnant woman in grave jeopardy which may lead to death:

(i)   that in the reasonable opinion of the medical team the foetus has not reached the  period  of  viability  and  cannot  be delivered according to the standards of the medical profession; and

(ii)  that the medical intervention is carried out only after the medical team has confirmed the necessity of the intervention; and (iii)  that the medical intervention is carried out in a licensed hospital having the facilities required for the necessary medical intervention to be carried out;

(c)  for the purposes of this article: "medical  team"  means  three  (3) medical practitioners registered as specialists with the Medical Council under the HealthCare Professions Act, two (2) of whom being obstetricians  or  gynaecologists,  one  (1)  of whom being the obstetrician who carries out the  intervention,  and  the  third  medical practitioner  being  a  specialist  in  the condition from which the pregnant woman is suffering.

There are no other exceptions in the law to allow an abortion when the woman's health is at risk of harm but not necessarily at risk of death, in cases of severe fetal malformation, or in cases of rape or incest. This makes Malta's abortion law the most inhumane in the whole European Union, at least on paper. It is rare for women in Malta to be prosecuted for having an abortion. Nobody has been imprisoned for having an abortion in the last twenty five years. This is despite the fact that abortion telemedicine services (also known as abortion pills by post), such as those provided by Women on Web and Women Help Women, are frequently made use of on the island.

Decriminalisation means that abortion is no longer seen as a criminal act. This does not mean abortion becomes unregulated, but it is regulated like any other medical and surgical procedure, and not through penalties in the Maltese Criminal Code. The relevant articles criminalising abortion should be revoked completely.

 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) have taken official stands in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion.

 

Irrespective of your personal views on abortion, would you rather punish women who have had an abortion (some of whom could be your family and friends) by having them face a prison sentence of up to three years? Or would you rather help them and support them? We hope it is the latter.

 

Current Maltese law criminalising abortion also stops women who need medical attention from seeking help, making abortions less safe and posing a risk to the health of anyone who needs an abortion in Malta. This is why abortion has to be decriminalised. Support those around you and your loved ones by advocating to decriminalise abortion.

Important to note: Maltese law only applies to the territory of Malta. This means Malta's abortion law only applies to abortions that take place in Malta. It is lawful for Maltese residents to have an abortion abroad, as long as this is done according to the law of that country.

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