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New law would decriminalise abortion in some cases, PD warns

Government denies that that is the case

File photo.

File photo.

The Democratic Party has warned that a Bill currently before parliament could decriminalise abortions in Malta if there is the prior and informed consent of the woman involved.

The party was commenting on the Gender-based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill, which will see Malta adopting the Council of Europe Convention on prevention and combating violence against women.

Its article 39 on forced abortion and forced sterilisation, the convention says that: "Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the following intentional conducts are criminalised:

(a) performing an abortion on a woman without her prior and informed consent;

(b) performing surgery which has the purpose or effect of terminating a woman’s capacity to naturally reproduce without her prior and informed consent or understanding of the procedure.

The party explained that in terms of Malta's criminal code, performing an abortion on a woman was an offence both if it is without "her prior and informed consent" and even if it is done with her consent.

The article in the new Bill however, led to the understanding that legislative measures to ensure that abortion was criminalised would only be taken if the abortion was performed without the prior and informed consent of the woman.

This, it insisted, was unacceptable and abortion should continue to be a crime even if the woman consented.

Malta should have made its reservations to this clause of the convention, PD said.

The party also complained that in terms of the Bill, the unborn child would no longer be considered to be part of a family unit or household. 

This, it said, contrasted with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which in its preamble spoke of 'equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family' and that 'everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person'.  

On the proposed lowering of the age of sexual consent from 18 to 16, the party  suggested  an interim period of four years until the scholastic curriculum of Personal Social and Career Development is upgraded. 

GOVERNMENT DENIAL

In a reaction, the government said the PD had based itself on 'skewed analyses made by fringe groups.'  

"Unfortunately, whoever penned the convoluted press release on the Bill tackling gender-based violence and domestic violence does not understand the distinction between the articles of the Bill as proposed by the Government, and the schedule which merely reproduces the Istanbul Convention word for word, a regular feature of Maltese legal drafting. One must point out that the European Union becoming party to this Convention was internationally lauded as one of the main achievements of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union," the government said.

"Article 39(a) of the Istanbul Convention dealing with forced abortions and forced sterilisations has been part of the Laws of Malta since June 2014 (see Chapter 532 http://www.justiceservices.gov.mt/DownloadDocument.aspx?app=lom&itemid=12197&l=1), yet abortion remains illegal, contrary to the PD’s insinuations. The recasting process that Parliament is currently discussing will not change that; instead, it will protect all persons who fall victim to gender-based violence and sanction perpetrators appropriately." 

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