Next week Malta will enact the EU's worst abortion law approved by the far right. Why?
It is a law being cheered by far right organisations, the Catholic Church, and right wing political parties. And yet, it is not because of these lobby groups that this law is being enacted in Malta. It is because of a poorly thought out strategy by Malta's supposed "progressive" government that has backfired spectacularly.
It all started when the government announced an intention to amend Malta's criminal code to allow for pregnancies to be terminated when a pregnant woman's life is at risk or when her health is in grave jeopardy. The original bill simply stated that if a doctor terminated a pregnancy under such circumstances, they would not be liable to prosecution. Much backlash followed, with the usual accusations from conservatives that this will lead to unrestricted abortions for any reason. The government then went back to the drawing board and today announced a new version of the bill.
In summary, the new version of the bill only allows doctors to offer a termination of pregnancy when a woman is in danger of dying because of her pregnancy. There are no other exceptions. For a woman who is in danger of dying to actually receive an abortion the following additional requirements must be met:
A) A total of THREE consultants must approve the abortion, unless it is an extreme emergency.
B) The woman must be in a "licenced hospital" - we are yet to find out which healthcare facilities will be included.
C) The abortion must be necessary and a last resort.
D) The fetus must not be viable.
The reaction of conservatives to this law was euphoric. The government is now on track to enact the most draconian abortion law in Europe endorsed by even the most hardline far right lobbies. We do not think the government intended for this to happen, but it was strategically outmanoeuvred by an organised anti-choice lobby and it is now backed into a corner with no clear way out.
The government should admit that it miscalculated when deciding how much to water down this law, and should do the right thing and halt the progression of this bill in parliament. Alas, this is unlikely to happen. Needing to preserve its image, the government still refers to this law as "historic" and as something that represents progress. And this, in short, is how Malta ended up enacting Europe's worst abortion ban and a "gold standard" for other bans across the continent.