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  • Writer's pictureDoctors for Choice

Robert Abela thinks a woman going blind because of pregnancy can get an abortion. He's wrong.

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

When the original version of Bill 28 was announced, the Prime Minister and other members of the Labour parliamentary group set out to defend the law by giving examples of how women facing severe complications in pregnancy would benefit from their proposed law. They said they wanted to avoid a repeat of the case of Andrea Prudente, who suffered ruptured membranes at 16 weeks of pregnancy, and they also gave theoretical examples of women receiving a diagnosis of cancer before the fetus has become viable who would be able to terminate their pregnancy under the new law to receive chemotherapy.

Perhaps to illustrate how this law would change the status quo to allow women to prioritise their health over continuing their pregnancy, they also mentioned a theoretical example of how a woman facing blindness due to pregnancy would be able to terminate her pregnancy under the new law because the original version of Bill 28 allowed a pregnancy to be terminated when there is a grave risk to health, even if there was not a clear risk of death.

Then, when faced with opposition from the usual conservative groups, the government revised Bill 28 and narrowed its scope. The new version of the Bill, which is now law, states that a woman must have a complication that "may lead to death" to qualify for an abortion in Malta. You would expect the same members of parliament who voted for this law to know what they voted for, and acknowledge that the examples they gave when the bill was first proposed would not qualify for an abortion under the law as enacted. Astonishingly, in a recent public appearance reported by Maltatoday, Prime Minister Robert Abela said "that a doctor can still intervene if the woman is at risk of, for example, losing her eyesight."

Let's consider how this would play out under the law he just passed. Imagine the theoretical situation of a woman who has an ophthalmic (eye) condition that is leading to blindness which is being made worse by her pregnancy. In this case, the pregnancy can be considered to be contributing to the risk of blindness. The pregnancy can therefore be considered to be putting her health in grave jeopardy, because it may cause a permanent disability. But, unless one really uses their imagination to stretch the law, it is difficult to consider this condition as one that may lead to death. Therefore, this woman facing blindness because of her pregnancy would have qualified for an abortion under the original version of Bill 28, but not under the law as enacted. Moreover, the law as enacted requires no less than three specialists - in this case two gynaecologists and one ophthalmologist (eye specialist) - to agree to an abortion. Considering Malta's context, this will never happen, and the woman will go blind.

One cannot but question whether the Prime Minister is fully aware of how much his new law does not protect women's health. Did he know what exactly he was agreeing to when he negotiated the revised wording of the law? If the Prime Minister really does not want women to go blind, or face other permanent disabilities because of their pregnancy, he must repeal the law he just passed and replace it with the original Bill 28.


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