Updated 5.05pm, adds open letter to MPs

The bishops of Malta and Gozo on Friday urged legislators to vote down legal amendments to abortion laws, saying somebody’s health should not be prioritised over human life. 

The appeal, signed by archbishop Charles Scicluna, Gozo bishop Anton Teuma and auxiliary bishop Joseph Galea-Curmi, will be read in churches this weekend, ahead of the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.

The feast, the bishops said, was a very dear one for the Maltese, and a clear declaration that human life was precious from the first moment of its conception.

"When we speak of caring for life from the first moment of conception, and of the respect towards the dignity of this life that has started, we do not speak in this way because our faith tells us there is human life from conception, or because the Church tells us so.

"It is science that tells us this. Even a scan of the baby in the womb shows the gradual development of human life when the baby has not yet been born. In the womb, there is someone, not something. What faith tells us is to cherish this life that has started because every life is a gift from God."

The three expressed concern over the proposed bill on the termination of pregnancies, saying the approval of the amendments would introduce abortion in Malta.

Robert Abela and Health Minister Chris Fearne have argued the amendments will simply codify an unofficial long-standing practice among doctors at Mater Dei Hospital into law.

The bill was on Tuesday welcomed by 108 MEPs, mostly from the Socialist group and the Greens, who described it as “an important first step” and said it would allow “life-saving terminations”.

However, the Nationalist Party and the pro-life movement, which includes former president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, 44 organisations and almost 80 academics, have opposed the changes.

Bishops oppose amendment

The bishops on Friday said the proposed amendment did not only refer to situations in which a mother was in danger of dying because of her pregnancy.

In such cases, they said, doctors always tried to save the mother and the baby, and when they were not successful in saving both, they saved the mother.

Over the years, no legal problems had been created for the mothers or the doctors, they claimed. There was no need for the law to be changed for the mother to be saved, they added.

The amendment, they said, also spoke of situations in which it was not the mother’s life that was in danger, but her health, and proposed that health can be safeguarded by killing a new human life.

"This means abortion. The experience of a number of countries shows that abortion was introduced precisely because of the use of the word ‘health’, as is being proposed in the amendment.

"This is a very serious matter. We know that when health requires treatment, every type of treatment necessary should be given, and when the mother needs help, she should be given all the support that she needs.

"However, human life should not be killed to safeguard somebody’s health. When respect for the dignity of the baby in the womb is denied, the foundation of respect for the dignity of each human being – including that of the woman and the professional – is destroyed," they said.

The bishops made a "special appeal" to legislators so that their choice would be in favour of life and not death.

They also "beseeched" the Immaculate Conception to intercede and help protect each human life with great care.

Open letter to MPs

In an open letter to MPs later, the three bishops expressed their "profound concern", shared by many others, over the Bill, which, they said, if approved "will permit abortion to take place in Malta".

They pointed out that saving the mother’s life has always been the acknowledged priority when it has not proved possible to also save an unborn child’s life and no criminal proceedings have ever been instituted against either a doctor or mother when this unfortunate predicament has arisen.

The amendment, they said, opens up the possibility to terminate the life of a child even when the mother’s life is not in danger because it permits an abortion to take place when the mother is at risk of suffering from a health condition that is not life-threatening.

"As shown in other countries, introducing a risk to health into the law facilitates terminations on a spurious pretext. It is abortion. Nothing more, nothing less.

"We view this as an extremely serious and retrograde development. Where a health condition requires treatment, we should do all we can to ensure that treatment is administered; when the mother is in difficulty of one sort or another, we should do all we can to ensure she is provided with whatever support and help she requires.

"However, terminating the life of another to safeguard someone’s health must never be an option. The crux of this matter does not lie in verbal assurances but in the text of the Bill. And the text of this Bill facilitates abortion in no uncertain terms and, to make matters even worse, does so right up to the point of birth."

The bishops insisted that a new life comes into being at the moment of conception.

"In the mother’s womb resides a human being, not an object that can be simply discarded or destroyed. Our heartfelt appeal to you is to recognise the great responsibility you have on your shoulders to protect the weak and vulnerable; and to preserve life, not destroy it.

"We pray that you will recognise the importance and implications of the choice before you and urge you in the strongest possible terms to choose life instead of death," they appealed to MPs.

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