Bernard Grech said he never meant to kick pro-choice people out of the party when he took a firm stance against abortion in controversial comments which alienated the liberal lobby last Wednesday.
The opposition leader insisted that what he meant was that he would not tolerate people within the party who publicly campaign for abortion.
“When I said that nobody will be allowed to be pro-abortion and remain in PN, what I meant is that nobody will be allowed to campaign for abortion legislation under the PN ticket,” he told Times of Malta.
“This is an issue on which I am not ready to compromise and on which our statute does not even permit compromise.”
Grech insisted that “freedom of thought is sacrosanct”, and that everybody is welcome to join the party “regardless of their beliefs – as long as they are prepared to stand by the party’s declared position and work within it”.
On Wednesday, while speaking on the party’s radio station, Grech took his clearest stance on abortion since becoming PN leader.
This party was, is and will remain against abortion
“The issue of abortion, for me, is a closed one. This party was, is and will remain against abortion. My predecessors and I have made this position clear. Nobody, nobody, and I repeat, nobody, so long as I am leader, in the past, present or future, will be allowed to be pro-abortion and remain in the party or represent the party in any way,” he stated firmly.
His statement put PN pro-choice candidate Emma Portelli Bonnici in the limelight, prompting many to believe that she would be sacked, along with other pro-choicers within the party.
However, a few hours later, Portelli Bonnici confirmed she will remain on the party ticket and thanked Grech for “having her back”.
Grech’s statement sent ripples across PN factions all over the country, with party insiders telling Times of Malta the statement had effectively alienated the liberals and the statement would cost them “thousands of votes”, especially among the younger generation.
The sources said Grech is believed to have been pressured by the vociferous conservative wing of the party to take a stance on abortion, but his public statement went “too far”.
But Grech said he felt the need to make the statement as a rebuttal to a misinformation campaign intended to confuse people.
“When I spoke on the radio, I wanted to make it clear that I am pro-life, PN is pro-life and under my leadership it will continue to be pro-life,” he said.
“PN was being unjustly and incorrectly accused of coordinating the arrest of people who were expressing pro-life sentiments online. Instead of arresting Joseph Muscat, some members of the police force were going out of their way to create an impression that PN was persecuting pro-life individuals. This is an outright lie.”
Emma Portelli Bonnici, a young lawyer, was subjected to a hate campaign on social media for comments about abortion she never actually made.