Updated 3.32pm with MEP letter
Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca has joined 44 organisations calling for the government to redraft proposed changes to Malta's law concerning abortion.
The organisations say doctors should only be allowed to terminate pregnancies when the mother’s life is at risk, rather than her health, as the new Bill proposes.
Coleiro Preca, a former president who also served as a Labour Party minister, has endorsed those calls and argued that the amendments as presented to parliament go beyond their stated remit.
"The government does not have the mandate to introduce abortion in Malta," the joint statement by the NGOs, Coleiro Preca and her husband Edgar argued.
MPs are set to debate amendments to Malta's criminal code that will free doctors and pregnant women from the threat of criminal prosecution if a pregnancy is terminated for health-related reasons.
Prime Minister Robert Abela and Health Minister Chris Fearne have argued that the amendments will simply codify an unofficial long-standing practice among doctors at Mater Dei Hospital into law.
The government was spurred into action after an American tourist had her request to terminate a non-viable pregnancy refused by health authorities. She has since filed a court case against the state.
MEPs praise proposals
On Tuesday, more than 100 MEPs welcomed the amendments as "a step in the right direction when it comes to protecting the fundamental rights of women, and medical practitioners."
"While we feel that the current laws being proposed still are insufficient for ensuring women's full bodily autonomy, this is an important moment for Malta which will have great and lasting positive effects on Maltese women," 108 MEPs wrote in their letter to Prime Minister Robert Abela.
The letter was spearheaded by Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer. It was also endorsed by 55 MPs from across 14 different national parliaments across EU member states.
Critics demand revision of amendments
However, the proposed Bill has not been welcomed by all.
Last Wednesday, over 80 academics signed a position paper urging the government to reword the Bill to clarify that an abortion will only be legal when there is a “real and substantial risk of loss of the mother’s life”.
Currently, the proposed amendment would also permit pregnancy termination if a woman's health is in "grave jeopardy".
The academics argued that the "health" clause could be abused, effectively legalising abortion.
In their joint statement, the NGOs and Coleiro Preca said they endorsed this position, which they said would ensure human dignity while also providing legal certainty.
The government has also received pushback from Bernard Grech, with the opposition leader accusing Robert Abela of trying to legalise abortion.
“Robert Abela evidently wants to introduce abortion, even though he is pretending it is not the case,” Grech said.
A handful of British MPs and members of the UK's House of Lords have also written an open letter to Prime Minister Robert Abela, expressing their “extreme concern” about the new Bill.
The 44 organisations supporting Coleiro Preca’s appeal are: Augustinian Youths, Azzjoni Kattolika, Caritas Malta, Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Catholic Voices Malta, Church Schools Association (CSA), Christian Life Community (CLC) Malta, Dar Merħba Bik, Doctors for Life, Eucharistic Youth Movement Malta, Fondazzjoni Sebħ, Forum tal-Għaqdiet u Movimenti Kattolici tal-Lajci, Gozo Aid for the Visually Impaired, Gozo Association for the Deaf, Great Oak Malta Association, I See Life, Kamra ta' L-Ispiżjara ta' Malta, Knisja Evangelika Battista, Kummissjoni Gustizzja u Paci, Legion of Mary, Life Network Foundation, Malta Catholic Youth Network, Malta House of Prayer, Malta Unborn Child Platform, Maltese Jesuit Community, MFOPD, Mission Fund, Moviment ta' Cana, Muscular Dystrophy Group Malta, National Council for Women, National Parents Society of Persons with Disability (NPSPD), New Humanity Movement, Malta (Focolare Movement, Malta), Pietre Vive, Salesians of Don Bosco, Secretariat for Catholic Education, Segretarjat Assistenza Soċjali (AKM), Soċjeta M.U.S.E.U.M Nisa, Soċjeta M.U.S.E.U.M Rġiel, Sovereign Order of Malta, St Jeanne Antide Foundation, the Evangelical Alliance of Malta, Trinity Evangelical Church, Youths for Christ and Żgħażagħ Azzjoni Kattolika (ŻAK).