Parliament on Monday voted in favour of an amendment that will allow for abortions when a woman's life or health is at serious risk.
It passed the second reading stage by 42 votes in favour and 34 against.
The proposed legislation will now be subject to further tweaks at committee stage and the final vote will be held next year.
Opposition MPs voted against the proposed law, arguing that it will introduce abortion by stealth.
Speaking to journalists after the vote, Abela said the amendment will not introduce abortion but will protect a woman’s life or health when it is in danger.
“The main principle remains that if the foetus can be born and will live, it should be born," he said.
"I must be clear that this is not an amendment that will introduce abortion in our country, as our position on abortion will remain the same as it was before. We are speaking about the protection of the mother in these extreme circumstances.”
He said any clarifications on the amendment will be made during the committee stages.
As Abela spoke to journalists, one pro-life activist outside parliament could be heard shouting “no to abortion”.
In a statement after the vote, the PN said it would do its utmost to ensure broad consultation about the amendments at committee stage, including with “professionals”, in the hope that parliament will ultimately vote against “the introduction of abortion”.
The PN also urged all those against the proposed law to make their voices heard.
The government has spearheaded the amendments to the criminal code designed to give doctors more legal certainty when terminating a pregnancy to protect a woman’s life or health.
Labour MPs have reportedly been told to expect further amendments at committee level.
The Nationalist Party said that it would be pushing for a broad range of stakeholders - from professionals to organisations - to be heard during the parliamentary committee's deliberations.
President George Vella, who has to sign off on the final legislation, this month expressed his hope that “all the points” are addressed before the amendment is signed into law.
The president has told people close to him that he is prepared to resign if parliament approves the amendment to the abortion law as proposed by the government.
Last month, a group of academics argued that the proposal as it is currently worded could be used to justify terminations due to mental health-related conditions. Some 450 doctors backed these proposals.
A separate group of academics declared they supported the government's bill as it currently stands.
"Opposing the legislation or further restricting it puts women’s lives and health at higher risk. The legislation will allow doctors to intervene when dangerous complications threaten the lives or health of pregnant women.
"When given consent by the patient, doctors will be able to intervene without the chilling effect of a possible four-year prison term and loss of their medical license. If there is any redrafting of the text, it should grant the same level of protection to the woman’s life and health and any text which does not include these points would be unacceptable," they said.
Current legislation, they added, was not enough.
The legislation was proposed by the government after an American woman had a request to terminate a non-viable pregnancy turned down by doctors.
Andrea Prudente is calling on the Constitutional Court to declare that her human rights were breached when doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy when her waters broke at 16 weeks.
The incident happened in June when she began bleeding profusely while on holiday in Gozo and was told by doctors that the pregnancy was no longer viable.
Prudente’s case made global headlines when she had to be airlifted to a Spanish hospital for a termination denied to her by Maltese doctors.
She is arguing that the Maltese government failed in its duty to provide safety and dignity by allowing a law that places a blanket ban on abortion. This put her life at risk and subjected her to inhuman and degrading treatment, she argues through her lawyer, women’s rights activist Lara Dimitrijevic.
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