On 12 May 2021, independent Maltese MP Marlene Farrugia presented a bill which would remove criminal sanctions for women who seek terminations. “It is not legalising abortion, but it is a very important first step,” said Lara Dimitrijevic, a lawyer and director of the Women’s Rights Foundation which campaigns on abortion rights in Malta.
The bill was apparently unexpected and sparked a huge outpouring of support on social media, and many people gathered outside parliament when the news broke. No date was immediately set for debate.
Campaigners estimate 300 to 500 women in Malta seek abortions every year. Many buy pills online while others travel for terminations, mostly to Britain and Italy. With the COVID-19 lockdown preventing most travel, Dimitrijevic said more women have resorted to buying abortion pills online.
On 21 May, 64 Members of the European Parliament signed a joint statement calling on the government of Malta to decriminalise abortion, make access to contraception and the full range of sexual and reproductive health services and sexuality education available, and more. The letter praises the groups in Malta who have been campaigning tirelessly for these changes.
Both of Malta’s major political parties are openly anti-abortion, so the bill is expected to face a rocky ride. Opposition leader Bernard Grech told journalists he was in favour of “caring for sexual health, especially of women”, but that his conservative Nationalist Party would be discussing the matter privately before taking an official position. The government’s Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia – the first Labour Party MP to react – said they are ready to discuss the matter.
Carmel Cacopardo, leader of Green Party ADPD, said this was a major step forward in Malta’s abortion debate. “To have the courage to discuss something like this is essential. As a country we have been avoiding the discussion for years. Marlene’s step forward in the House today gives this debate a new direction. Much is left to do. This is just the first step. It is necessary to lift the fear of discussing this. Only in this way we can move forward.”
Other first reactions can be found in Malta Today, some very supportive, a few semi-hysterical. You can watch a video in this news report of the reactions of three abortion rights supporters to the announcement here.
SOURCES: Malta Today, by Nicole Meilak, 12 May 2021 ; Reuters, by Emma Batha, 12 May 2021 ; Euractiv, 12 May 2021 ; Letter from MEPs, 21 May 2021 ; PHOTO , 12 May 2021