Domestic violence bill opposed by PN MP Edwin Vassallo

Domestic violence bill opposed by PN MP Edwin Vassallo

Nationalist MP says he has blessing of party leader Adrian Delia

Updated 10pm

Opposition MP Edwin Vassallo was the only parliamentarian to oppose a Bill updating domestic violence and gender-based violence laws on Wednesday, saying he had the blessing of Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia to vote against it.

Nationalist Party MP Mr Vassallo, who went against his own party whip and became the only parliamentarian to vote against marriage equality last July, told parliament on Wednesday that the proposed law would lead to the state “ruling over things which nature has determined”.

Mr Vassallo.Mr Vassallo.

Much as in that case, Mr Vassallo raised concerns about references to gender in the proposed law, which he said tried to paint over differences between men and women.

MPs were debating a second reading of the Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill, which would, among other things, tighten sanctions against perpetrators of domestic violence, rape, revenge porn and other such crimes, and transpose the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention into local law.

READ: Domestic violence victims to receive more protection

Mr Vassallo called on Equality Minister Helena Dalli to clearly state that the government was against all forms of abortion, and to make this clear in the proposed law.

Article 39 of the Convention prohibits forced abortions. 

“If we transpose the [Istanbul] Convention as is, the government will be opening a window [to abortion],” Mr Vassallo said.

Concerns about Article 39 had previously been raised by the Partit Demokratiku, which had, however, backed away from its initial claims following a strong disavowal by the Equality Ministry.

Prior to Mr Vassallo, various other Opposition MPs, including Robert Cutajar and Karl Gouder, had also called on the government to make the Bill’s anti-abortion credentials clearer. Unlike Mr Vassallo, however, they said they backed the Bill and its aims.

PN MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici called for tighter definitions in certain cases, noting that foreign courts had in some cases interpreted a sexually abused woman who was scantily dressed to have provided "tacit consent". 

Dr Mifsud Bonnici also suggested that sanctions for revenge porn - distributing pornographic photos or video of someone without their consent - should feature both a prison sentence and a fine, rather than either of the two. 

PN leader Dr Delia took to Twitter later on Wednesday evening to say that the party backed the Bill while recognising Mr Vassallo's ethical dilemma. 



'Nothing to do with abortion' - Helena Dalli

Concluding the debate, Minister Dalli expressed regret that the Bill would not be passing unanimously.

She said it would take more than the law to bring about gender equality, and took a dig at Mr Vassallo without mentioning him by name.

READ: Severity of domestic violence is worst in Malta, European Index claims

“Just listening to some members of this House is enough to make this clear,” she said.

The Bill used gender-neutral language throughout to ensure transgender, gender queer and other individuals were also protected by its provisions, she said.

Dr Dalli said the Bill was not a Trojan horse to introduce abortion in Malta. 

"This Bill has nothing to do with abortion, it is about addressing gender-based and domestic violence. Those saying otherwise are just trying to sow fear," the minister said. 

The Bill will now proceed to the parliamentary committee stage. 

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