The bright side: We finally have some form of legal abortion in Malta
A lot has been written about Bill 28, and how in its watered-down version it has too many rules that may end up harming women who have complications in pregnancy. However, even though the passage of Bill 28 may not have made the care of women with pregnancy complications any safer, it was still a very important milestone in the battle for abortion rights in Malta.
For the first time in Malta's modern history, and certainly since it became an independent state, there are legal grounds for abortion. From a legal point of view, Bill 28 shattered the abortion ban that has been in place for around 170 years, and introduced rules by which an abortion conducted in Malta can be considered legal. The rules are restrictive, and they only allow abortions when there is a theoretical risk to the woman's life, but they nonetheless provide a route to legal abortion.
With the passage of Bill 28, Malta's parliament has broken an important barrier. It has started to introduce exceptions to abortion law, and if one looks at similar timelines in other countries, more amendements to the law can be expected to pass in the next years. The amended Bill 28 is in many ways similar to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act passed in Ireland in 2013, which was followed only five years later by a referendum that legalised abortion more widely.
There are also precedents in Malta for amending laws related to civil rights quickly after the initial barrier was broken. IVF laws have been amended several times since the first Embryo Protection Act of 2012, and have legalised controversial techniques such as embryo freezing and Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). Malta's first divorce law was enacted after a referendum in 2011, and in 2021 another Act was passed that slashed the waiting time required to be eligible for a divorce after a separation. Same sex civil unions were introduced in 2014, and they were largely superseded by equal marriage only three years later.
Malta's abortion law is no longer untouchable. Saying that one expects more amendments to abortion law and more legal grounds to be added in due course is not wishful thinking, but a reasonable expectation of what is to come. There are many other reasons why abortion can be required apart from to save a woman's life. There are also cases of severe fetal anomalies, cases of pregnancy resulting from sexual crime, and cases of pregnancy that is causing harm to the woman even though it may not necessarily lead to death. None of these situations are allowed a legal abortion according to Malta's current abortion law, but further amendments may remedy that. It is widely known that the current president George Vella would be an obstacle to more amendments of abortion laws, but his term expires in February 2024. For the sake of women who are being harmed by Malta's restrictive abortion laws, we hope more positive change happens soon.