Updated 5.30pm with PD leader comments
The Nationalist and Democratic parties have pledged to bring forward amendments to entrench Malta’s abortion ban into the Constitution by the end of the year.
The two parliamentary opposition parties bound themselves to a written declaration by pro-life activists against any legislation that could lead to the introduction of abortion.
The pledge was spearheaded by co-leaders of the conservative Alleanza Bidla party Ivan Grech Mintoff and Rebecca Dalli Gonzi. It was was also signed by the right-wing Moviment Patrijotti Maltin.
The Labour Party and Alternattiva Demokratika did not sign the pledge.
Mr Grech Mintoff announced the outcome of the pledge on his party's TV programme Exodus, broadcast online, describing it as a "tremendous victory" which would send a message throughout Europe.
'Life from conception'
Through the pledge, party leaders commit to amendments to the Constitution that would add the words “from conception” to article 33. According to the pledge, such a motion should be moved before the end of the year.
The article currently states: “No person shall be intentionally deprived of his life save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence under the law of Malta of which he has been convicted”.
No reference is made in the declaration to the fact that article 33 leaves the door open to capital punishment - banned in all circumstances under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The party leaders also pledge to oppose any attempts to amend article six – which outlines how the Constitution overrides inconsistent laws - and to use the party whip to oppose any other abortion legislation.
A 'conditional' signature from PD
PD leader Godfrey Farrugia told Times of Malta on Monday that the party had signed the pledge "conditionally" as a commitment to engage with all sectors of society.
PD's conditional support of the pledge is a commitment to engage with all sectors of society.
"We want a reasoned debate on the issue. We note that there are several elements in society in favour or against abortion. However there appears to be a majority for a broad interpretation to the right to life," he said.
"Our position as a party is to support a broad interpretation to the right to life while recognizing that there are rare situations that need to be addressed with respect and humanity," he added, referring to medical emergency cases where the life of mother or unborn may be at stake.
PN secretary general Clyde Puli said in a response to Alleanza Bidla that his party was also ready to amend the Constitution in line with its declared anti-abortion stance.
“Our electoral manifesto states this clearly and binds the elected PN MEPs to ensure that the right to life from conception is protected. All candidates have declared clearly and categorically that they are against abortion,” he said.
Both PN and PD said they agreed with the Constitutional amendments in principle but would need to analyse legal aspects.
Abortion back on the agenda
Efforts to entrench the abortion ban - one of the strictest in the world - into the Constitution were last pushed in 2005 by then justice minister Tonio Borg and continued through the pro-life lobby Gift of Life's '+9 Movement'. The proposal had the support of MPs from both major parties but never came to fruition.
Malta along with just five other states in the world — El Salvador, the Vatican, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua — refuses abortions to women under any circumstances, even when it is a case of potential maternal life or death.
The issue has returned to the agenda in recent months, with groups including the Women’s Rights Foundation and the newly-formed Doctors for Choice insisting on the need for safe and legal access to terminate a pregnancy.
The groups say the ban constitutes a violation of women's rights and autonomy and puts women's health at risk.
PN leader Adrian Delia has made it a key part of his European Parliament election campaign, arguing that the Party of European Socialists - of which the Labour Party forms part - is seeking to declare abortion a fundamental right.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said there is no mandate to introduce abortion in Malta.