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  • Writer's pictureDoctors for Choice

Religious Freedom and Abortion

The reason why in Malta abortion remains a criminal offence with no exception is not because the country has a strong evidence base to prove that its women are not being harmed by the ban on abortion, but it is because the Catholic church opposes abortion and the church remains influential in society.

The UN Human Rights Council, in its 2020 Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, makes clear that states should not limit human rights and equality because of religious beliefs or societal norms. In case there was ever any doubt whether abortion is a human right, the report states: "in a number of countries around the world, governments continue to maintain partial or total bans on access to abortion, and religious figures have both encouraged these measures and advocated against efforts to reform the laws."

"Discriminatory religious edicts inform laws and policies that restrict sexual and reproductive rights, including, but not limited to, partial or total bans on access to abortion and contraception, prohibitions on assisted reproductive technologies and gender reassignment surgery, and limits on the provision of evidence-based sexuality education."

In its concluding recommendations the report says: "States should repeal discriminatory laws, including those enacted with reference to religious considerations, that criminalize adultery, criminalize persons on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, that criminalize abortion in all cases, or that facilitate religious practices that violate human rights."

Will our country listen to the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur, or will it continue limiting the rights and freedoms of its citizens to remain in line with religious edicts? True religious freedom lies in not just allowing citizens to hold different beliefs, but in giving citizens autonomy over their lives and futures. The state should not attempt to impose a particular set of beliefs or morals on its citizens, especially when those beliefs are diametrically opposed to internationally agreed human rights. And there is no doubt, given the huge number of countries that have legalised it and the large number of international organisations that advocate for it, that safe and legal abortion is an internationally agreed human right.

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