The Nationalist Party is preparing to oppose the new wording of the abortion amendment in parliament if the notion of “health” as it currently stands is not removed, Times of Malta has learned.

PN health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri said that if the amendments announced by Health Minister Chris Fearne last week do not properly address the word “health”, the PN will very likely oppose the new version of the bill.

An updated version is yet to be published and the PN said it will need to see the new wording before it is able to take a clearer position. 

But Spiteri said that based on Fearne’s announcement, the government is yet to address the controversial word.

The government has so far been steadfast on retaining the notion, and the opposition has been equally unshakable on opposing the bill if the word is not removed or addressed properly.

As things stand, there is still only one version of the amendment on the table, and that is the original amendment drafted by the government in November.

The amendment states that doctors and women will not be subject to prosecution when a pregnancy is terminated during medical intervention when a mother’s life or health are in danger.

The opposition and several NGOs argue that the government is trying to introduce abortion by stealth.

The wording could be amended at committee stage, which is the next step in the legislative process. Speaking on Monday, Fearne said that was likely to happen within "weeks". 

Last week, Fearne told journalists that after discussions with “specialists, mothers and the general public” the government will propose two amendments that will clarify that a viable foetus “must be born”. This is being done to shut down rumours that abortion will be legalised, he said.

We will clarify that if a child can be born and live independently, that child should be protected, be birthed and live- Health Minister Chris Fearne

“We will clarify that if a child can be born and live independently, that child should be protected, be birthed and live,” he said. 

“We will be proposing amendments in the draft to ensure that we minimise the possibility of abuse,” he added, without elaborating.

No date has yet been set for committee meetings.

“The committee members have been chosen and we are ready to begin discussions,” PN whip Robert Cutajar said.

“We can’t understand why this is taking so long and why we haven’t been able to see the new wording yet.”

Spiteri said that if the viability clause was included, the government would only be addressing the issue of time frames.

He said that so far, the bill was arguably the “worst” form of abortion law, because unlike other European legislations, it does not specify a time period within which a termination of pregnancy can be justified.

The government, he said, was yet to indicate whether it will address the abortion debate’s biggest bone of contention in its new wording – the word ‘health’.

While there seems to be consensus among all camps that a pregnancy terminated during a medical intervention intended to save the mother’s life is justified, the opposition and critics fear the ‘health’ concept could lead to a broader justification of abortion, such as in cases of mental health problems.

“Health problems, including mental health conditions, can be treated and cured with other means, without the necessity to terminate a human life,” Spiteri said.

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