The suggested changes to Bill 28 will put barriers to treatment and harm women
This press release was distributed on 16.01.2023.
We express our concern at the suggested changes to Bill 28 that will put pregnant women and persons in Malta at increased risk by making it more difficult for them to receive treatment. We appeal to the government to show commitment towards women’s rights and pass Bill 28 as it currently stands.
Bill 28 is a simple exception to the complete ban on abortion that allows terminations of pregnancy in cases of risk to life or grave risk to health, and anyone who does not abide by these stringent rules faces fines and prison time. When Bill 28 was launched we described it as the “bare minimum” to protect pregnant women and the changes being proposed will weaken it and will harm women.
Proposal for “viability” could be dangerous to women
It is normal clinical practice to deliver a fetus that is of a viable age when there is a grave risk to the health or life of the pregnant woman. Prime Minister Robert Abela suggested Bill 28 will include a legal requirement to birth a “viable” fetus.
However, “viability” has two definitions in pregnancies. Firstly, viable can mean the ability for the fetus to survive outside the uterus with the appropriate support, usually considered to refer to fetuses that have developed beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy.
However, “viable” is also used to describe any pregnancy that may lead to a live birth in the future.
We warn that if this latter interpretation is applied to the new law, it would mean that doctors will be forced to refuse treatment on the grounds that there could be the possibility that the pregnancy could still go to term.
For example, a woman diagnosed with cancer that just found out she is pregnant would not be allowed an abortion to receive chemotherapy because her pregnancy would still be considered “viable”, as it could still lead to a delivery.
It seems the driving force behind this change is spin by conservative forces that the government intends to legalise later term abortions. However, this is and will remain illegal. This means the requirement in law is unnecessary, may lead to confusion, and increases risk to women.
A structure to decide on terminations of pregnancy will lead to delays and harm women
The government is also exploring the possibility of a “structure” to decide on cases when termination of pregnancy should be allowed. We reiterate our stance that the person who should decide whether to terminate a risky pregnancy is the doctor caring for the patient, with the consent of their patient.
Introducing a requirement for other people to authorise treatment will lead to delays, as has been the experience in other countries, which may cost a woman her life especially in cases of medical emergency out of hours. It will also lead to a higher burden of proof before a termination of pregnancy is allowed, which in practice will mean women will have to become more unwell before they are allowed to have treatment, by which time it may be too late to save that woman’s life or health.
Once again, we remind people that anyone found by court to have acted outside the provisions of the new law will face prison time and fines, so these structures are unnecessary, suggest a distrust of doctors, put up barriers to treatment, and may cost someone their life.
Any additional legal obligations placed on doctors caring for women will have no clinical benefit to patients and will mean more risk being put on patients and more women being harmed. We reiterate that Bill 28 should pass as it is and women’s health and lives should not be up for negotiation.