MALTA – Malta government backs down on abortion bill after anti-abortion protests

Malta’s government has backed down on a bill which would have allowed abortion when the woman’s health was at serious risk, saying instead that terminations would only be allowed when her life is in danger.

Malta is the only country in the European Union which does not allow any form of termination, but the original bill had raised a storm of protest, with anti-abortion campaigners saying the definition of what constituted a health risk was too wide.

Local media had reported that the country’s president, George Vella, had told the government he would resign rather than sign the bill as originally drafted into law. The reports were never denied and Vella had made his disquiet publicly known, repeatedly appealing for a revision of the text.

Health Minister Chris Fearne said on 23 June that the bill was being amended so that termination could only take place in a situation where a mother’s life was in danger, once all other possible treatment had been exhausted. The procedure must be agreed by three doctors and may only take place in a licensed clinic. Abortion will remain illegal under all other circumstances including rape, incest and severe fetal abnormalities.

At present, a doctor is liable to up to four years in jail if they terminate a pregnancy to save the woman’s life.

These amendments to the abortion bill are “vague, unworkable, dangerous and will lead to vulnerable pregnant persons being left permanently disabled or dead”, the Voice for Choice coalition of Malta has said. “The debate was a major breakthrough in Malta and allowed people to view abortion as the necessary medical procedure that it is, but the revised version of Bill 28 is a step in the wrong direction. For the first time in this country’s history, the law will mandate an unworkable and dangerous requirement of three specialists’ consent… and may lead to pregnant persons facing even longer delays and barriers to treatment than they do now.”

“As the Voice for Choice coalition, we withdraw our support for Bill 28 and call upon the government to pause the hurried passage of the Bill through Parliament, engage in more consultations, and to avoid making a historic mistake. We will not be deterred from pushing for change. In fact, in face of such betrayal, we promise to keep fighting more passionately and determinedly for the protection of women and pregnant persons in Malta until abortion is decriminalised and accessible.”

The statement was signed by Academics for Choice, Aditus Foundation, Doctors for Choice, Grandparents for Choice (Nanniet għall-Għażla), Integra Foundation, Lawyers for Choice, Moviment Graffitti, Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement, Malta Humanist Association, Men Against Violence, Parents for Choice, Students for Choice, Women’s Rights Foundation, Young Progressive Beings.

SOURCES:, 23 June 223 + PHOTO; Reuters, by Christopher Scicluna, 23 June 2023