Pro-life groups and a former MEP candidate are raising concern over MEPs voting for a far-reaching EU resolution which included a clause calling on member states to guarantee access to abortion and condemn attempts to criminalise its practice during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The European Parliament recently approved a coordinated EU action against COVID-19. It was far-reaching and included a wide range of topics like the economy, environment, health, among others. However, it also included an amendment, introduced by the S&D group, that calls on member states to guarantee access to all sexual and reproductive healthcare during the pandemic and condemn criminalising abortion care.
All of Malta’s MEP voted in favour of the final text, which included the clause.
However, MEP Alfred Sant was the only one to vote in favour of the amendment. His position raises questions as to whether MEPs should always vote according to public sentiment, or should personal positions sometimes take precedent.
MEPs Alex Agius Saliba, Roberta Metsola, and David Casa all voted against the amendment, while Josianne Cutajar and Miriam Dalli abstained.
They say this opportunity allowed them to confirm their stance against the introduction of abortion in Malta in a specific vote, which rarely happens. They also claim the clause also has no legal effect in Malta as it goes against EU treaties.
When Malta joined the EU in 2004, it was written into the accession text that nothing in the Union’s treaties “shall affect the application in the territory of Malta of national legislation relating to abortion.”
Ever since the vote, pro-life groups have sought answers from their MEPs on the issue, and are dissatisfied with their replies. They claim that the MEPs are being disingenuous and posit that the vote is simply an easy manoeuvre to skirt around the issue.
“As a pro-life, anti-abortion group “Not in my name!” is shocked that all of our MEPs from both PN & PL would ever vote for the EU to impose that Malta guarantees abortion during COVID19. Now that this has been confirmed it is time for the parties concerned, the establishment and even the church to tell the truth about all of this. Did their parties instruct them to vote like this or was this betrayal their own decision? If it was their own decision, will the parties ask for their immediate resignation?” the group said.
Lovin Malta was also told that the issue of the MEPs vote is not solely a concern of pro-life people. The group insisted that representatives voting against the opinion of an overwhelming majority of Maltese should never be tolerated.
Former MEP candidate and EU official Peter Agius has also raised concerns that certain foreign MEPs used the occasion to enforce values that are not shared across the bloc.
He explained that while sexual health should be guaranteed, the EU could not impose abortion on a nation’s sovereignty, stressing that it went far beyond the supranational body’s competence.
Agius, however, described the document as a dead letter, giving some indication that the resolution will not be introduced in its current form.
As it stands, abortion remains an entirely criminal offence and is not allowed in any circumstance. A woman who willingly gets an abortion is liable to a prison term for 18 months to three years. Three women have been charged since 2000.
It remains a controversial topic in Malta, with the overwhelming majority of people vehemently against the practice, including Malta’s President George Vella.
Several pro-choice activist groups have emerged over the last year, vowing to break the taboo on the issue in Malta.
There were at least 53 women in Malta who got an abortion in 2018, the UK’s figures on the medical procedure shows.
A group of 100 European civil society organisations has already urged Malta and five other European countries to urgently reform their abortion laws, warning travel bans introduced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a heightened risk.