Article is taken from ‘The Malta Today’ -Wednesday 7th December 2022 (Pages 1,3)
NOT politicians, not the clergy, nor NGOs should be deciding whether a woman terminates her pregnancy to safeguard her health or life, Owen Bonnici said.
The Culture Minister insisted such a decision rests with the parties and their doctors, when speaking in parliament on the decriminalisation of abortion if a woman’s health or life is at risk. The debate on the amendment to the Criminal Code put forward by government is at Second Reading stage.
Such an amendment, Bonnici said, marks government’s willingness to truly protect women’s health.
He started his speech by referring to three cases involving women who either died or suffered health consequences after they were denied an abortion in Ireland.
House continues to debate amendment allowing an abortion to take place if a woman’s life or health is in danger
The cases marked that country’s decision to eventually legalise abortion. Bonnici asked: “Who has to contend with the grave medical circumstances? The woman or us? What happens if she is already a mother and has to live with permanent physical disabilities?”
The minister said the proposed amendment was limited to saving a woman’s life or safeguard her health if the circumstances were grave. He said these two principles must remain intact but reiterated what the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister said that government will consider tweaks to reduce the opportunity for abuse.
“I think that the proposed law is the right course of action, but it is critical that it is not abused,” Bonnici said, condemning Opposition leader Bernard Grech for his parliamentary speech in which he ridiculed American tourist Andrea Prudente.
Miriam Dalli: ‘Is my health as a woman worth nothing to you?’
In a hard-hitting speech, Miriam Dalli turned to the Opposition asking her counterparts whether her health, as a woman, was worth nothing to them.
The Energy Minister said the current debate was characterised by misinformation that tried to characterise the amendment as the introduction of abortion. `
“This discussion focuses on women whose pregnancies were and are wanted. Women who desired children and still want children, but whose medical issues are so severe that they pose a threat to their lives or seriously endanger their health,” Dalli said.
“It’s easier to spread fake news than the truth.”
In an angry tone, the minister continued: “If you, your sister, your daughter, your friend or your cousin is in a serious health situation while carrying a non-viable pregnancy, what are we supposed to tell her? To wait because the honourable Nationalists told us that they don’t want to pass the law before Christmas?”
Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici: Not about religion or politics
From the Opposition benches, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici insisted the amendment was not a question of politics nor religion.
He said that between what is written in the amendment and what is being said by government MPs is different and called for more clarity on such a sensitive issue.
He referred to the legal notes drawn up by former president Sir Anthony Mamo – known as the Mamo Notes they are used as a reference point in legal studies – noting that a similar attempt had been tried to legislate for grave circumstances but it drew a blank.
“The fact that the original concept would be lost if specified too much, discouraged the person who attempted to amend the law on abortion,” explained the MP.
Mifsud Bonnici mentioned the alternative proposal put forward by 81 academics and noted that while it wasn’t perfect, it was still an improvement over the government’s amendment.
When it came to making a distinction between physical and mental health, Mifsud Bonnici disagreed with his colleagues.
“Health is just health, abortion should be the last resort only after all other options have been exhausted,” he insisted.
The PN is insisting that the inclusion of health as a parameter to justify the termination of a pregnancy was akin to introducing abortion on demand. The Opposition wants the amendment to cover only those instances when a woman’s life is in danger.