Poland was recently at loggerheads with the European Union. It was objecting to a new mechanism which permitted the withdrawal of EU funds to countries that do not abide by the rule of law.
Thankfully, Poland finally yielded and now the mechanism, with certain safeguards, will be launched. A country cannot abuse of its sovereignty in rule of law matters while belonging to the Union, benefitting from its membership but ignoring its values.
This mechanism could be a lifesaver for any country whose government tries to cross the red lines of what it is allowed to do.
What is, however, perturbing is that in the midst of this crisis, the European Parliament passed a controversial, even though non-binding, resolution which condemned Poland because its Constitutional Court has ruled that the right to life protects even unborn children who are physically or mentally deformed or disabled.
The charge against Poland was that “many pregnant women who have been informed that there is a high probability of the foetus having a severe and irreversible abnormality or an incurable disease have had their access to legal abortion restricted”.
It then “strongly condemned the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling and the setback to women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Poland”. It also affirmed that “the ruling puts women’s health and lives at risk”. It even assumed that wilful termination of a pregnancy is a fundamental right although no European instrument of law recognises such right.
This resolution, even though not binding, is astounding. Since when is the apex court of an EU member state subject to criticism for its judgments on matters which are outside the powers and jurisdiction of the EU organs such as abortion?
In fact, European commissioners have repeatedly made it clear that, according to the principle of subsidiarity, abortion and euthanasia are matters to be dealt with by the member states themselves. Some allow them. Others, like Poland and Malta, are vehemently against.
The government cannot cajole the Catholic vote on the one hand and allow its pundits and MEPs to encourage the introduction of abortion in Malta- Tonio Borg
This intrusion on the subsidiarity principle and the margin of appreciation, which each member state enjoys in such matters, was conveniently forgotten by the European Parliament. It is appropriate to recall that, during the negotiations leading to Malta’s accession to the Union, the Fenech Adami government had managed to include a protocol in the Treaty of Accession to the effect that, even though the current legal position is that the EU cannot interfere in such matters as abortion, Malta retained the right that, should the rules change, it remains the arbiter to decide whether to introduce the wilful termination of a woman’ pregnancy in Maltese law.
Now for the rules to change, one needs the unanimous decision of the member states. Yet, to be doubly sure, a Nationalist government insisted on including such a protocol.
It is sad to note that out of six Maltese MEPs, only two, namely Nationalist MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa, voted against the EP resolution. Even though the official position of the current Labour government, as expressed by the prime minister, is that the current administration is against the introduction of abortion, two Labour MEPs, in Pilate-like fashion, washed their hands of the issue and actually abstained on a resolution condemning a country for restricting abortion.
Another Labour MEP did not turn up for the vote. But, worse than that, one Labour MEP, Cyrus Engerer, voted in favour. In his considered opinion, the selection of healthy unborn children and the elimination of the unhealthy ones in their mother’ womb could actually be even considered as a human right, an evil that could be one day be taken as laudable and morally right.
He stated that “the ruling of October 22 by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal to make abortion illegal in cases involving severe and irreversible foetal defects “puts women’s health and lives at risk”,
Besides, the inertia, and, in one case, the outright approval, regarding the resolution by Labour MEPs has created a dangerous precedent for Malta whose laws are in line with the ruling of the Polish Constitutional Court.
We inevitably shudder when we read about the extermination of disabled, deformed or abnormal human beings during the last World War by totalitarian regimes in pursuit of the superior race doctrine. Still, it seems that some of us find nothing objectionable if such human beings are exterminated before they are born. They style themselves pro-choice but the only persons who have no choice at all are the unborn.
This is similar to a recent boast by one member state that practically there were no longer any children born with Down Syndrome in its territory, not because a cure was found for such condition but because all unborn children showing signs of such condition were eliminated before having the chance of being born!
It is useless paying only lip service to the right to life. The right to life needs to be defended every day. The government cannot cajole the Catholic vote on the one hand and allow its pundits and MEPs to encourage the introduction of abortion in Malta.
Tonio Borg is former European Commissioner.
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