The Labour Party has come out against a parliamentary proposal to decriminalise abortion, saying a private members’ bill pushing for the change “chokes” debate about a sensitive issue.
Labour MPs met on Friday morning to discuss the party’s position on a motion presented by independent MP Marlene Farrugia on Wednesday, calling for the criminal code to be changed to ensure women and medical professionals who commit an abortion do not face jail time.
In a statement issued on Friday, the PL indicated that it was open to discussing the issue but did not want it put to a parliamentary vote at this stage.
The decriminalisation debate had to take place among broader society “in a mature and free manner, not be choked by a motion like this," the party said.
It said that discussion about the issue should not be “monopolised by political parties in parliament and should be built on respect for different views, without sensationalism, condemnation or stigma.”
The Nationalist Party has already said that it is against Farrugia’s proposal, with PN leader Bernard Grech saying the party could “never” be in favour of decriminalising abortion.
With both elected parties opposing the bill, Farrugia's proposal is likely to never be debated in parliament: MPs' legislative proposals must be approved by the House Business Committee in order to be added to parliament's agenda. The committee is made up of five members, each PL or PN MPs.
Farrugia responded to Labour's position by asking it if had "lost its mind".
"Since when does discussion in Parliament on any issue 'choke' public debate?" she asked.
She said the statement showed Labour does "not want to decriminalise abortion to keep women under their filthy heel".
The Labour and Nationalist parties have "spoken again with one voice" she said, "retaining the status quo is paramount for them to keep a stranglehold on power."
Prime Minister Robert Abela has previously made it clear he is against abortion, as has President George Vella.
In its statement, the PL recalled Abela’s position but said that the prime minister “still believes that he should keenly follow what is being said” about the matter across society.
Abela's predecessor, Joseph Muscat, has said since leaving office that he wants a national debate about abortion.
Under local law, women who abort can be jailed for up to three years while medical professionals who help carry out the procedure face up to four years behind bars.
Malta is the only EU member state with a blanket ban on abortion.