Six PN MPs, including former leader Simon Busuttil, have refused to back Opposition leader Adrian Delia’s motion against a legal notice which grants vacation leave to lesbian couples and infertile women seeking IVF treatment overseas.
The motion, which was Delia’s first parliamentary move since his election as PN leader in September, was defeated in Parliament tonight by 21 in favour and 37 against – with those against including all Labour MPs as well as Partit Demokratiku MP Godfrey Farrugia.
Farrugia said his partner and fellow PD MP Marlene Farrugia would have also voted against the motion had she been present for the parliamentary sitting.
Delia refused to grant his MPs a free vote on the motion, arguing it was an issue of legality and not one of morality. However, instead of toeing the party line, six PN MPs – Simon Busuttil, Mario De Marco, Therese Comodini Cachia, Karl Gouder, Karol Aquilina and Chris Said – refused to participate in the vote.
PN MP Claudette Buttigieg, who has often spoken out in favour of LGBT rights, missed the debate because she was abroad.
“We wholeheartedly believe that all couples as workers should enjoy this benefit, without any distinction or discrimination,” the six MPs said in a joint statement. “That a couple seeks to undergo this process of medically assisted procreation presents serious emotional challenges to them; for these couples this is a difficult time and they deserve all possible support.”
“As legislators, we are obliged to see that this assistance is given to all without distinction. We also believe that there should be no distinction based on the manner or the place were conception has taken place. Everyone deserves the highest respect and social justice demands that no one is refused this benefit, especially when couples are faced with such difficult times. Negating this benefit even if temporarily is unacceptable.
A number of @PNmalta MPs, notably @SimonBusuttil, @ChrisSaidPN and Therese Commodini Cachia are absent from vote on PN’s own motion against IVF rights. PN’s coalition partners to vote against motion. @adriandeliapn first Parl move against more civil rights backfires.
— Kurt Farrugia (@KurtFarrugia) November 22, 2017
“Our position has been known for several weeks. We asked to be given a ‘free vote’ but sadly note that this was not accepted. In these circumstances, we think the best path to take is one which respects our opinion that this motion runs counter to the principles in which we believe while at the same time respect the decision of the majority of the Parliamentary Group who felt that this motion should be presented.”
“We believe the best way is that we do not participate in the vote called this evening by the Opposition. In matters of conscience, every member of Parliament is obliged to express his vote and we have chosen to express ourselves against this motion through this statement.”
Sperm and egg donation are currently illegal in Malta
Malta’s IVF law outlaws gamete donation – meaning lesbian couples and infertile couples have to travel abroad if they want to give birth to their own children. The law, called the Embryo Protection Act, explicitly excludes lesbians from IVF by defining “prospective parent” as “either of two persons of the opposite sex who are united in marriage, or who have attained the age of majority and are in a stable relationship with each other”.
The controversial legal notice, which has been in place since last May, allows all couples undergoing IVF – including those travelling abroad for gamete donation – to avail themselves of 100 hours of vacation leave for every IVF cycle.
However, Delia fought the legal notice on the grounds that its definition of ‘prospective parent’ included people in same-sex marriages or civil unions – contrary to the Embryo Protection Act.
Throughout the debate, Delia and other PN MPs stressed the motion was solely intended to streamline the law and was not an indication of the party’s stance on gamete donation. The Opposition leader repeatedly challenged the government to present its planned update to the Embryo Protection Act in Parliament as soon as possible
Joseph Muscat noted Labour had already come out in favour of gamete donation
“Embryo freezing, gamete donation and surrogacy are currently illegal and if we vote in favour of this legal notice then it would be tantamount to giving the green light to those treatment,” shadow health minister Stephen Spiteri said. “The government wants to rush through these changes, but we need a proper an serious discussion. IVF shouldn’t be turned into a political football.”
However, government ministers and Labour MPs pounded into the motion as one that betrays the PN’s conservative and regressive ideology when it comes to matters of LGBT+ rights.
“This is a point of principle on whether politicians should get to interfere in people’s private lives and whether society should distinguish homosexuals from heterosexuals,” health minister Chris Fearne said.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat ended the debate by accusing the PN of “double jeopardy” – wanting to punish lesbian couples twice over by denying them the right to give birth to their own children.
“The PN still cannot understand its beliefs that people should be distinguished based on their sexual orientation belong to the politics of the past”
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
“They still cannot understand that their beliefs that people should be distinguished based on their sexual orientation belong to the politics of the past,” he said. “We must ensure as many people as possible have rights to IVF and I wont stop defending the right of people to become parents. If children born through IVF they might ask their parents if there is something wrong with them, but I tell them ‘No, there’s nothing wrong with you at all, and indeed your parents sacrificed so much to be able to have you’.”
He added the Labour Party had already come out unequivocally in favour of gamete donation during a pre-electoral questionnaire conducted by the Malta Gay Rights Movement amongst political parties. In contrast, the PN sat on the fence – responding that they are not ready to consider surrogacy but not coming out in favour or against gamete donation.