Updated November 12 with criteria for inclusion
Over 100 academics are supporting the government's proposed changes to Malta's abortion laws, saying the amendments are the bare minimum to safeguard women's lives and health.
The group announced its support on Monday "in the spirit of dialogue and academic debate", clarifying they were not 'Academics for Choice'. While they supported the proposed amendment, not all backed the full decriminalisation of abortion.
Signatories all possess a Master's degree or higher and are engaged in teaching or research at an upper secondary institution or higher in Malta, organisers said.
The legal amendment proposed by the government would allow a pregnancy to be terminated if the mother’s life is at risk or her health is in grave danger.
The Nationalist Party has declared its opposition to the amendment, saying that it is a backdoor to introduce abortion on demand. On Sunday, thousands of anti-abortion protestors turned up in Valletta to voice their opposition to the amendments.
Labour MPs have reportedly been told that the amendment is expected to be tweaked when it passes to an upcoming technical phase as it continues to make its way through parliament.
Last month, a group of academics argued that the proposal as it is currently worded could be used to justify terminations due to mental health-related conditions. Some 450 doctors backed these proposals.
On Monday, a separate group of academics declared they supported the government's bill as it currently stands.
"Opposing the legislation or further restricting it puts women’s lives and health at higher risk. The legislation will allow doctors to intervene when dangerous complications threaten the lives or health of pregnant women.
"When given consent by the patient, doctors will be able to intervene without the chilling effect of a possible four-year prison term and loss of their medical license. If there is any redrafting of the text, it should grant the same level of protection to the woman’s life and health and any text which does not include these points would be unacceptable," they said.
Current legislation, they added, was not enough.
There had been no maternal deaths in the past 10 years, in part, because many of these cases had been exported, they added.
However, if someone did die because of denial of healthcare for reproductive reasons, this would be considered as state-sponsored femicide as defined by the European Institute for Gender Equality, they warned.
"We further note that a number of human rights treaty monitoring bodies, and international health organisations, as well as the European Parliament, have recognised that abortion must be legal and accessible, at a minimum, when a woman’s life or health is at risk, or where carrying a pregnancy to term would cause the pregnant woman or girl substantial pain or suffering, such as where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and in cases of severe or fatal fetal impairments.
"While this current legislation does not recognise the latter two circumstances and still falls short of international health and human rights standards, we acknowledge it as the bare minimum to safeguard women’s lives and health," they added.
109 academics have signed the statement so far - the document remains open and is continuously updated.