Forming part of the protest march against the amendment of the abortion law, which was organised by the Life Network Foundation, made me feel encouraged and elated. The thousands who gathered in Valletta from all walks of life and of different political beliefs was proof of the need of having one voice and of showing a common front.

The bill presented in parliament amending the current criminal code on abortion was triggered because Andrea Prudente, an American woman, was denied the procedure to terminate her pregnancy even though she started to miscarry. The problem cropped up because local doctors involved in her case reasoned that since Prudente’s life was not in imminent danger and not at risk, they did not consider terminating her pregnancy as an emergency. There were other medics, though, who thought otherwise.

It is this enigma that the proposed amendment is supposed to solve. The pro-life activists have always maintained that the law as it stands always protected the life of the mother whenever it was at risk.

Eminent lawyers also hold that the current law, though not explicit, gives priority to safeguarding the life of the mother when it is in danger. What is needed, then, is more legal clarity and that such safeguards are more explicit.

It has been reported that Health Minister Chris Fearne, when talking to Associated Press after the bill was presented in parliament, stress­ed: “It is clear that the spirit of the law is that no part of the law should preclude or hinder medical professionals from saving lives.”

Fearne’s statement implies that he is alluding not only to the mother’s life but also to the one of the unborn child. Also, when speaking in parliament during the debate, Fearne reiterated that this was a pro-life bill and “abortion is and will remain illegal”.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, when referring to the legal amendment, stated: “The amendment will not legalise abortion.” He went on to reassure that laws making abortion illegal in Malta will be untouched.

So, I ask, if both the government and the opposition are adamant in not introducing abortion in Malta, why are we experiencing such partisan bickering and division on a bill which is supposed to be agreed upon by the absolute majority of our MPs?

A substantial number of leading medics, lawyers, ethicists and academics have proposed a change in the wording of the bill by inserting what is termed as the ‘Expert Clause’. This would ensure that the proposed law is limited to the current policy where doctors can always act to save the life of the mother, even if this results in the undesired death of the baby.

Can’t we as a people, as a nation, for once, unite on such an important matter?

Can’t we forget our differences and present a common front to safeguard both the life of the mother and, wherever possible, even that of the child?

The doctors’ union stated that it wasn’t even consulted- Ray Azzopardi

Unfortunately, the way the bill is proposed still seems to raise doubts and misconceptions. This was pointed out by various organisations and individuals, including a number of academics and the Malta Chamber of Pharmacists. Lately, the Medical Association of Malta affirmed that the text of the bill was vague and that “including the mother’s health in the discussion will only bring up more problems rather than solve them”.

The way the Labour Party reacted to the stand taken by the Nationalist Party on this issue shows how partisan poli­tics is taking the upper hand. When the Nationalist Party gave its reasons why it was not supporting the bill as it is being proposed, it was reported that the Labour Party accused the PN of partisan politics, stating that the bill is being misinterpreted by the leader of the opposition.

The fact that former president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca led the protest march in Valletta and was one of the key speakers shows how we should avoid turning the issue into a political football. She did point out, in her speech, that the matter cuts across political and religious lines and that it merited serious discussion.

Is this the way such an important amendment should be discussed and argued? Is this what is expected from our main political parties? Why shouldn’t we listen to the academics and well-versed professionals? They are the experts and they have spoken clearly and aired their objections and suggestions. The doctors’ union stated that it wasn’t even consulted.

Let us look at this matter holistically and heed professional advice.

“Let us think critically and be open-minded,” as our health minister advised us in parliament, because, yes, we truly want to save lives. But this can only be done if we remove our partisan blinkers.

Then, yes, we might not lose this golden opportunity to give one voice to the amended bill, which needs clarity, not ambiguity, and affirmation of life, not death.

Ray Azzopardi is a former headmaster.

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