More than 450 doctors have signed a petition to support a clause proposed by academics to abortion legislation currently being debated in Parliament.

Parliament is currently debating an amendment to the criminal code that will free doctors and pregnant women from the threat of criminal prosecution if a pregnancy is terminated to protect a woman "suffering from a medical complication which may put her life at risk or her health in grave jeopardy".

The proposal has sparked a national debate, with critics saying the government is trying to introduce abortion by stealth and proponents saying the changes are needed to ensure legal certainty. 

A group of academics has argued that the proposal as it is currently worded could be used to justify terminations due to mental health-related conditions. That argument was repeated by the nurses' union on Wednesday. 

In a statement, Doctors for Life (DfL) said they shared “the grave concerns” expressed recently by academics in a position paper arguing that the wording as proposed by the government will be loosely interpreted to allow for abortion on demand. 

They said that the text contained in the government’s amendment that specifically allows for the termination of a pregnancy where there may be a threat to a woman's health is of particular concern.

“This terminology is too vague and unfortunately has led to the introduction of abortion on demand in numerous countries, starting from the UK in 1967. This is due to the holistic definition of the word ‘health’, which encompasses mental health and wellbeing,” they said.

Placing the onus of interpretation of this loosely-worded law on the doctor caring for the woman transferrred the burden of responsibility to the doctor, potentially making doctors a scapegoat in high-profile cases brought forward by pro-choice advocacy groups or individuals. 

For this reason, they said, they supporrted the academics’ proposed amendment that reads: 

“No crime is committed under article 241(2) or article 243 when the death or bodily harm of an unborn child results from a medical intervention conducted with the aim of saving the life of the mother where there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the mother’s life from a physical illness.”

DfL said it reached out to doctors to give them the opportunity to endorse the amendment proposed by the academics and more than 450 had already done so far.

It pointed out that, in the UK, the vast majority (over 98%) of abortions are performed for mental health reasons.

“So it is entirely justified that these 450 doctors are concerned that, if the government proceeds with the amendment in its current form, abortion on demand would soon become a reality in Malta. 

“If the government’s intention is to protect a woman’s life and to provide peace of mind to the doctors caring for her, there should be no impediment for the academics’ clause to be adopted and implemented,” DfL said.

It also called on the public to sign a petition on endorsing the academics’ amendment joining the more than 19,000 people who had already done so. 

It also called on the public to make their voice heard at a national protest being held in Castille Square, Valletta on Sunday at 3pm.

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