Labour MPs were told to expect tweaks to a contentious abortion law reform in the coming days as they raised concerns about pushback from “confused constituents”.
Prime Minister Robert Abela summoned his parliamentary group to a meeting at the Labour headquarters on Thursday evening to discuss his MPs’ position on the controversial legal amendments being discussed in the house.
Abela is understood to have indicated that the legal reform will be “clarified” when it passes through an upcoming technical phase in parliament.
In the coming days, the law will be put through what is known as the committee stage. This part of the parliamentary process sees each clause of the bill examined separately and in detail as both government and opposition MPs can propose any number of amendments during the discussion on a particular clause.
No details of the way the reform will be tweaked were given to MPs by Abela.
Sources said the Labour leader asked how the reform is being received in their constituency with MPs raising a variety of issues and concerns.
“Some constituents and voters are being faced with a clear and simple message from the opposition: ‘the government is introducing abortion’.”
“The narrative we are presenting to constituents is a lot more nuanced and difficult to explain, so they are being left confused or unclear on the issue,” one MP said, reflecting the discussion in the parliament group meeting.
Another MP said concerns were raised on a technical level with the proposed abortion amendments.
“Could we have a situation where doctors face legal action if they do not terminate a pregnancy now,” asked one MP.
Another said the “devil is in the detail with this reform” as it was still unclear on the guidelines for when a doctor can terminate a pregnancy.
What is being proposed?
Parliament is discussing a bill that will make abortion legal when a pregnant woman’s life is at risk or her health is in grave jeopardy.
The amendments, first announced last month, are intended to free doctors and pregnant women from the threat of criminal prosecution if a pregnancy is terminated for health-related reasons.
Currently, abortion is outlawed in all circumstances and both doctor and mother risk jail time if they go ahead with a termination, irrespective of the reasons why.
The new amendment allows for an exception when the pregnant woman’s life or health is at serious risk but critics say the current proposal opens the door to abortion.
It comes after an American tourist whose request to terminate a non-viable pregnancy was refused by the health authorities.
Andrea Prudente was 16 weeks pregnant when in June she began bleeding profusely while on holiday in Malta and was told by doctors that the pregnancy was no longer viable.
She was eventually transferred to Spain where she had an abortion.
The case cast the island in the international spotlight and days later a group of 135 doctors signed a judicial protest asking for a review of Malta’s blanket ban on abortion care.
The opposition has come out against the reform saying the government does not have an electoral mandate to introduce abortion.
President George Vella has told people close to him he is prepared to resign if parliament approves the amendment to the abortion law as proposed by the government.