Doctors for Choice
Why Bill 28 will not be “abused”
Bill 28, which is currently going through Malta's parliament and has already passed a crucial second reading vote, will decriminalise terminations of pregnancy when there are medical complications that put the woman's life at risk or health in grave jeopardy. Opponents of the Bill have been arguing that including a provision to protect women's health when this is in grave jeopardy may open the law up to "abuse", which they consider to be women with unwanted pregnancies getting a doctor to certify their health is at grave risk so they can get a legal abortion. This will simply not happen in practice.
Bill 28 is worded in such a way that unwanted pregnancies without additional serious complications would not be covered by it. The word "grave" in the law is a very high threshold, and doctors will be very cautious to ensure the criteria are met before allowing a termination of pregnancy. Since Bill 28 deals with criminal law, if a doctor acts outside of the provisions of Bill 28 they face four years in prison and a permanent revocation of their licence. No doctor will be willing to face this punishment and terminate an unwanted pregnancy unless there is also a grave risk to health, and this is because a much simpler solution exists in Malta.
Thanks to abortion telemedicine services, women in Malta can order abortion pills online and use them at home in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. They do not need the approval of local doctors, with prescriptions being issued by doctors abroad. This means women with unwanted pregnancies are simply going online and getting their abortions done this way. This is illegal, but no prosecutions have taken place for many years.
It is currently widespread practice in Malta that when a woman with an unwanted pregnancy or stable complications in pregnancy wants to terminate the pregnancy and she seeks help from her doctor, she is informed about the possibility of obtaining abortion pills online if she is still in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, or advised about clinics abroad. This practice will continue after the passage of Bill 28.
After Bill 28 passes, it will still be much safer for doctors to continue to take this approach, and therefore not be liable to prosecution because they have not taken a direct part in the abortion, than to terminate pregnancies themselves and try to justify it in terms of the very restrictive Maltese law. This is why Bill 28 will not be "abused."
Bill 28 is intended for those pregnant women with serious complications in hospital. Consider what happened to Andrea Prudente: She was admitted to hospital with a partial miscarriage but could not be given abortion pills in a Maltese hospital because of the law. She had to be flown to Spain only to receive the abortion pills Mifepristone and Misoprostol. At the same time, women in Malta are receiving Mifepristone and Misoprostol to terminate unwanted pregnancies at home every single day. This means that in Malta, women have de facto access to termination of pregnancy if they are outside hospital, but not when they are in hospital with a serious complication. This is why Bill 28 is very much needed.