Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)
Claire is a young woman and mother who suffers from many health conditions, including pulmonary atresia and pulmonary hypertension, so much so that she had one of her lungs removed in 2014.
Experts say that if women suffering from pulmonary hypertension become pregnant, they end up in a great risk of being in serious danger health-wise or even at risk of dying.
When she spoke to the doctors when she was seven weeks pregnant, they told her that the pregnancy was not affecting her health at that stage and time. She was also told that the longer the pregnancy, the greater the risk.
Claire's life was not at risk at that precise moment in time, but Claire began to reflect: so, I have to wait until my health deteriorates so much that I find myself between life and death?
Claire had two children already who had lost their father two years earlier. Claire felt that she also had a responsibility towards her children. At one point they asked her point blank: ma, are you going to die?
Claire lived in Ireland before the last reform was approved, and at the time the termination of a pregnancy for medical reasons could only be done in case of a matter between life or death.
Claire did not have many options, she could not even go to terminate the pregnancy in nearby England because she was at such risk that British doctors did not accept to assist her without the cooperation of the Irish doctors, who in turn could not assist the English doctors because of the way the law was until then.
Claire had no choice. When she went into the labor ward to give birth, she was truly afraid that she would not come out of the ward alive.
Claire did not die and gave birth to the baby as well. However, her health deteriorated. In her own words, Claire's life was shortened. She was told that she would need a heart and lung transplant and she already knows that she will not see her children grow up.
Claire Malone spoke publicly in Ireland and clearly said that she wants women to have a voice in these very difficult moments, so that they do not go through her experience.
Savita was a dentist who got pregnant ten years ago. She was living in Ireland and at 17 weeks she went to the Hospital in Ireland for a consultancy because she started to feel sick, but after a while they sent her home.
That same day she went to the hospital again because she started to feel pain, like a feeling that something is going down.
When they examined her, they found that the gestational sac was coming out of her body. They took her to the hospital and told her she was going to have a miscarriage.
After a few hours, the water broke but the fetus did not come out, it stayed inside. The fetus's heart continued to beat.
The next day Savita asked the doctor to terminate her pregnancy, but the doctor could not do so because the fetus's heart was still beating and according to the doctor, Savita, although clearly in a grave medical condition, was not at risk or in clear danger of losing her life.
Savita however developed sepsis, then cardiac arrest and despite everything the doctors tried to do, she died at the age of 31.
There was an Irish girl, who continued to be referred to as X. In December 1991, when she was only 14 years old, her neighbor raped her and she became pregnant.
X sadly wanted to take her own life because of the pregnancy she did not want. She was in such a bad medical condition, that her mother chose to take her out of the country and terminate the pregnancy through an abortion.
Before going abroad, the family went to the Police authorities, demanding that justice to be done. Instead, the police requested that X be prevented from traveling to prevent a crime from being committed.
The case ended up before the Irish Supreme Court which decided that this constituted – to quote the law - "a real and substantial risk" to her life.
However, X went through a miscarriage shortly after the judgment and the case stopped there.
I mentioned three real and true stories of three Irish women. When these heartbreaking and delicate experiences took place, the laws in Ireland were either as we have them now or as they are being suggested by some elements in our country, i.e., very limited to only life or death situations.
Claire, Savita and X were not Maltese, but I am sure that among the readers there are Maltese and Gozitan women who strongly relate to those experiences because of circumstances they or other women close to them went through.
The current discussion is a very delicate one and we must treat it with sensitivity and with kid gloves.
In the middle of the discussion, we have three realities.
1) We have the woman.
2) We have a pregnancy.
3) We have medical circumstances that are “doubly qualified” because they are (1) connected to that same pregnancy and (2) they are grave and serious.
In the overwhelming majority of cases a pregnancy is wonderful news of joy. In the overwhelming majority of women, being pregnant is the most beautiful thing that can happen to them. In the overwhelming majority of cases, a pregnancy is a wonderful experience where a woman carries a life within her and gives birth to that life.
There are cases however - fortunately not common but still they exist and therefore are important for us - where a pregnancy leads to the mother's health being placed in a serious and grave situation or even the mother's life being put at risk.
It seems that in general, removing some exceptions, there is an agreement in our country that in the event that a woman is put in a life-or-death situation due to her pregnancy, the law should be clarified in such a way that both the woman and the doctor/s would be protected if a decision is made to terminate the pregnancy in order to save the mother’s life.
I am one of those who believe that if we limit ourselves to that, we would not have done what is expected out of us as responsible legislators. If we limit ourselves to that, a few months or years down the line we would need to go back to Parliament and amend the laws again to cater for more circumstances because history would have undoubtedly shown us that we have left gaping holes of a lot of pain and a lot of injustice.
That a person, that a woman is in a state of serious health is not "nothing". Because I am very surprised by the insensitivity of some who talk about the fact that a woman is in a serious health condition as if it is “nothing” or is a “something” that has become irrelevant due to the fact that the woman is pregnant.
That being in a grave and serious health condition is something that the woman has to go through whether she likes it or not once that woman is pregnant. That once a woman is pregnant, she should not have the right to decide herself, together with the doctors and her family, about her own serious and grave health situation. A woman does not become less important depending on whether she is pregnant or not if she is in a grave and serious health situation.
Severe and serious health situations leave serious consequences, and their seriousness and importance should never be underestimated.
I am a legislator. I take this responsibility extremely seriously. I want to fulfill my duties and do what I believe is just and right.
I cannot accept that a woman who is in a serious state of health due to medical circumstances related to her pregnancy is passed through the ordeal of having to wait until she is in a position between life and death before the experts check if the pregnancy should be terminated.
I cannot accept that a woman who is in a serious state of health due to medical circumstances linked to her pregnancy is not given a voice and instead of her deciding, we the legislators decide that she should not have a voice.
Who will live with the consequences of the serious medical circumstances, us or the woman? Especially if that woman is already the mother of other children. Especially if those serious medical circumstances leave a permanent physical impairment on the woman if she continues with the pregnancy.
I am convinced that if you ask any person - if your daughter, your wife, your partner is told that if she continues with a pregnancy her health will be permanently affected in a serious way, many will say that this is a very difficult decision to take.
We agree that it is very difficult decision.
But it must be a decision taken by the parties together with their doctors. The woman’s decision. Not our - the politicians’ - decision. Not of the clergy. Not of NGOs. But the women. Of the family together with the doctors.
This is a very important law that will mark how willing we are to go for humanity instead of absolutism, how willing we are to go for the true protection of women's health instead of being imprisoned by dogmatism, how willing we are to have the courage to make and take the right decisions.