A referendum would be the fairest way to decide the contentious issue of abortion, according to Malta’s new president.

Myriam Spiteri Debono said she is personally against abortion but would not say whether she would sign an abortion law if it were to land on her desk.

In her first interview with Times of Malta, the 71-year-old president said: “I’m personally against abortion but I won’t speculate further. But let’s not be delusional about this – just like it was introduced in other countries, it will eventually be introduced [here as well]. I speak with many young people, and I’m astonished at how some of them – a few of whom even frequent church – come to believe that abortion is acceptable in certain circumstances.”

But she made it clear that if it is ever to be introduced it should “not be snuck in through the window in some electoral manifesto”.

A national referendum would be the fairest decision-making tool, she believes.

Malta has the strictest anti-abortion laws in the EU. An attempt to amend the criminal code, allowing abortion to take place if a woman’s life or health is in danger was shot down last year.

Months later, the wording was changed to allow an abortion only if a woman’s life is in “immediate danger” or if her health is in “grave jeopardy that may lead to death”. 

The new president speaking on her first day in office. Video: Karl Andrew Micallef

The new version was unanimously approved by MPs, getting the nod from pro-life groups and the Church, but incensing pro-choice activists who said the legislation was vague, unworkable and even “dangerous”.

Former President George Vella threatened to resign if an abortion bill was approved in parliament, sparking a potential constitutional crisis.

Pressed on whether she would sign an abortion law or resign if parliament approved one, Spiteri Debono would not say.

President must sign any bill approved in parliament

“I won’t tell you. I have a right to freedom of conscience like everyone else. Wherever I served I strived to do what is right. But from the position I have now, I don’t think I should commit myself further so that I don’t influence anyone,” she said. Asked whether there was any law she would not sign, she said she’ll “cross those bridges when she comes to them” but said she “does not think” she would go abroad to avoid signing a law.

The president has no executive power to influence or change laws and must sign any bill approved in parliament.

In 2022, President Vella also avoided signing a law which allows genetic testing on embryos when he was overseas. Sources had said he was uncomfortable signing the law as he did not agree with the practice. Then-acting president Frank Bezzina signed it instead.

Read the full interview here. 


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