Controversial amendments to the Embryo Protection Act were approved by Parliament on Tuesday evening and now await the President’s formal assent to become law.
Party lines were observed as the government MPs voted for the bill and the Opposition voted against. Opposition MPs were granted a free vote but all voted against the Bill. Three government and two Opposition MPs were abroad on government or parliamentary business. The vote was 34 in favour and 27 against.
The vote came a few hours after lawyer Tonio Azzopardi in his personal capacity filed a constitutional application arguing, among other things, that the amendments should be declared null because they breached constitutional provisions on the right to life and respect for human life in all its stages.
Pro-life groups had staunchly resisted the bill, saying that embryo freezing was being introduced by choice and not in exceptional cases and this was not in the interest of embryos that were not given a chance to be born and whose life was being put in danger.
The groups had a meeting with President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca on Sunday and also argued that the new law would breach the Constitution, as freezing of human embryos by choice was a threat to the very same human life.
The Health Ministry said subsequently that it had been advised by the Attorney General that there were no grounds to block the the Bill on constitutional grounds.
On Monday, more than 500 doctors also protested that amendments to the bill meant that an even higher number of embryos could remain frozen indefinitely.
The Health Ministry insisted that the new law will enable more people to become parents.
Plans to introduce altruistic surrogacy were dropped from the Bill while it was in the parliamentary process, and will feature in a separate legislation. Children born from gamete donation be given the right to know who donated the gametes, once they turned 18.
The amendments also enable same-sex couples and single parents to access IVF treatment.
In comments before the vote, Health Minister Chris Fearne, who piloted the bill, said he was “proud” to be spearheading reforms to IVF laws which would open up the process to single parents and same-sex couples as well as extend embryo freezing.
In comments to Times of Malta as he was entering parliament, Mr Fearne said the government had consulted, listened to people’s concerns and modified the amendments to the Embryo Protection Bill as a result.
Addressing a press conference before the vote, Opposition leader Adrian Delia said he and the other PN members would be voting against the amendments.
The Opposition, he said, was against anything that led to the destruction of life.
The government, he said, had ridiculed public concerns. The law was unacceptable, as it gave a minister the power to decide who should be born and who should not.
“This is a law that strips our society of its humanity,” he said. It also destroyed the concept of the family and created a 'soulless state'.
Fielding questions from reporters, Dr Delia said a future Nationalist government would revoke any laws that led to the destruction of human life.
Asked if he would support a referendum to do away with the reform, he said he would have to see how such a referendum would be put forward.
SMALL PROTEST OUTSIDE PARLIAMENT
A small protest was held outside parliament while MPs voted, with those taking part holding placards reading “Don’t freeze me” and “I am not an object”.
Life Network Foundation chairperson Miriam Sciberras dismissed the government consultation process as a “fake” one.
Earlier in the day, Dr Sciberras wrote an open letter to Mr Fearne warning him that he was risking “the lives of many embryos” by moving the amendments.
Eleanor Borg from the Gift of Life Foundation expressed dismay and said that the saddest thing about the reform was that it would impact those without a voice – embryos – the most.