International pressure to change Malta’s abortion law has ebbed and flowed, but has increased greatly in recent years.
On June 23, the Maltese Government made an abrupt positive pro-life U-turn, shelving an abortion “reform” bill the Labor Government had introduced in November 2022 and hoped to enact by Christmas. It reversed course following a huge public outcry, compounded by the President’s threatened resignation if the bill passed Parliament. As a result, Malta remains one of the last countries in Europe that still protects unborn life.
Background: International pressure to change Malta’s abortion law has ebbed and flowed, but grew in intensity after an American tourist, Andrea Prudente, was admitted to a Maltese hospital in June 2022. She was 16 weeks pregnant and suffered ruptured membranes. Her fetus was still alive, and she was treated and monitored by a team of doctors. At no point was her life in danger, as local and international media implied. Under Maltese law, if a mother’s life was clinically diagnosed to be endangered, a physician could deliver the child, even if at a gestational stage that survival outside the womb was unlikely. Malta has had no maternal mortalities for the past dozen years, the lowest maternal mortality ratio in the world despite its protective pro-life laws.
That didn’t stop pro-abortion forces from trying to use the case, as with the death of Savita Halpanavar in Ireland in 2012, as a wedge to push abortion liberalization. The same tactics are currently being pursued in Texas, where a judge, on August 4th, claimed the state’s abortion law’s exceptions for maternal life were “uncertain” and might interfere with miscarriage care.
Malta is one of the last sanctuaries for life in Europe. An island country in the Mediterranean near Italy, it’s played major roles in history. St. Paul was shipwrecked there on his way to Rome. Closer to our times, it played a crucial role in World War II. It now fights a war to protect its unborn.
Maltese law protects life from conception, including the lives of embryonic human beings during in vitro fertilization procedures. Killing a child in the womb is illegal in Malta.
Those protections make the country stand out, especially in Europe. When Malta joined the European Union (EU) in 2004, it reserved a carve-out making clear that present or future EU rules could not be used to change Malta’s abortion laws. Despite that derogation, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović (like her predecessor, Nils Muižnieks, has regularly criticized Malta for its abortion law. European law protects species threatened by extinction and the environment, but refuses to acknowledge the mass genocide depriving Europe of its future: its children. Europe’s declining fertility rates—including in Malta—threaten that future.
The Maltese Government submitted a “reform” bill in November 2022, claiming the legislation would merely “clarify” legal responsibilities in emergency cases. The bill’s language—legalizing abortion if medical complications “may” jeopardize a mother’s “health”—mirrored provisions in the UK’s Abortion Act 1967. At the time of their enactment in Britain, the language was thought to restrict abortion; 56 years of practice have shown it a loophole broadly liberalizing abortion.
Concern about the language galvanized a pro-life coalition into being. A position paper endorsed by 80 experts and by 44 NGO and other organizations, together with prominent figures (including former President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca) and the Opposition Nationalist Party, appealed to the Government to redraft the amendment tabled in Parliament. The Maltese took to the streets on December 4 in an historic, massive protest. Coupled with the strong pro-life stand taken by current President George Vella, the efforts swung the pendulum from an abortion to a lifesaving amendment signed into law June 30.
The past year’s experience shows the pro-abortion lobby will stop at nothing to try to introduce abortion in Malta. The misrepresentations of the Prudente case were an example. So, too, was international media coverage that focused almost exclusively on pro-abortion spokespersons.
The Catholic Church took an active and strong pro-life stand. It issued a position paper, addressed the question in hard-hitting homilies, and directed a pastoral letter to members of parliament.
Malta’s pro-life debate coincided with a parallel debate in the United States following the June 2022 Dobbs decision. Both cases showed both the need to invest in efforts to change minds about abortion—making it unthinkable—as well as to defend against extremist claims that pro-life legislation imperils women’s lives. We also need to be there to provide help for those seeking post-abortion help and healing, as the effects of a culture of abortion have left so many women and families hurt. Political advocacy, education, and practical support are the three legs upon which pro-life work must be built.
Both pre- and postnatal care are excellent in Malta. Free, high-quality prenatal care is available to pregnant women in the national health system. An NGO provides a helpline for women with an unplanned pregnancy, including provisions for lodging homeless pregnant women prior to and for the first year after birth. An after-care program supports the women and their infants for as long as they need it.
Strong life awareness campaigns and support in concrete terms to all women, including fiscal and material assistance, need to be accessible options for women and families. Nurturing, self-respect, and human dignity need to become part of our vocabulary once again.
The pro-life movement is there for women, providing authentic education campaigns and sexuality campaigns but also supplying help and support for those in a crisis pregnancy. Help needs to be easily accessible at all stages and includes at diagnosis, during the pregnancy, birth and after. It should also invest in after care support programs to ensure the best outcomes for the women who choose life and their infants.
Such investment in building a culture of life must become a priority if we are to ensure Malta’s pro-life status. The government needs to invest more in family-friendly initiatives and benefits, something that would be a win-win for legislators by reversing Malta’s downwardly spiraling birthrate.
Malta’s law of a country prohibiting abortion saves lives—many lives—and this is significant. The fact that women have time to consider their decision, that abortion is not so easily available, and that there is help for people in choosing life can be lifesaving. Tribute to this is that, in less than four years of operations, Malta’s lifeline crisis pregnancy helpline has saved over a hundred babies. (Keep in mind that the population of Malta is slightly over half a million people). Five classrooms full of toddlers are better than one hundred empty chairs or two hundred grieving mothers and fathers.
Abortion denies us all this. The aftermath and trauma of abortion are underplayed in terms of health complications and mental health issues. Women have also died from complications when they were sold abortion as “healthcare,” a reality the media downplays. Consider the silence surrounding the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell.
One day—hopefully in our lifetimes—abortion will be rejected. It will be unthinkable as the barbaric practice of what it is, the destroyer of life and peace.
The fight for life is far from over. As the anti-life onslaught readies its next charge, we hope and pray the people of Malta hold on, igniting a spark of hope that spreads hopefully across Europe.