In the overwhelmingly Catholic country of Malta, its president is holding firm to the roots of his faith when it comes to the overwhelming pressure to have abortion legalized in his country. And George Vella is so passionate about life, he would rather resign than sign an abortion bill.
In comments made to Net News earlier this week, the 79-year old former family physician vowed he “will never sign a bill that involves the authorization of murder… I cannot stop the executive from deciding; that is up to parliament. But I do have the liberty, if I don’t agree with a bill, to resign and go home. I have no problem doing this.”
The comments came a week after independent MP Marlene Farrugia introduced a bill in parliament seeking to decriminalize abortion. But they also came just days after Farrugia expressed disgust over opposition to the bill which is the first of its kind in a country that has a Catholic population of over 90%.
In a bluster of criticism that included calling the government “far-right and conservative”, Farrugia also accused both the governing (centre-left) Labour Party and the opposition (centre-right) Nationalist Party of being anti-woman. Blasted Farrugia, “The two parties had shown they refuse to discuss the challenges faced by women and, instead, continue to hold on to their power and status quo. They just do not want to decriminalize abortion to keep women under their filthy heel”.
The bill seeks to remove three articles from Malta’s criminal code which includes a three-year prison term for anyone seeking or helping with an abortion. That said, while Malta boasts the strictest abortion ban in all of the European Union, prosecutions are uncommon.
But Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions seem to be the impetus for the ramping up of the abortion issue in Malta. Every year, an estimated 400 women travel outside of the country – usually to the UK – in order to procure an abortion.
Women in Malta are finding a work-around the travel restrictions, with the help of organizations like the Abortion Support Network. The UK-based “charity” opened shop in 2019 and offers information and funding to cover the cost of travel and access of abortion. Not surprisingly, their rise in requests coincides with an overall rise in the voice of pro-choice activists in Malta. Also in 2019, Doctors For Choice was set up by a group of medics to press for legislative change, as well as improve sex education and access to contraception.
Of course, much of this is of profound detriment to women. Just last summer, ifamnews.com’s Marija Stajic reported on the harrowing practice of “home abortion“; “the end result of the British government’s decision from late March to facilitate access to abortion during the coronavirus pandemic by allowing women to order the abortion pill by mail and then perform the “DIY” abortion “in the comfort of their home.””
Malta’s state religion may be Catholicism, but the country is having an exceedingly difficult time putting its faith into practice. Mass attendance rates continue to plummet, and the country legalized divorce in 2011 and same-sex marriage in 2017. But abortion seems to be the topic in Malta where there is no budge. President Vella, who received his doctor’s certificate in 1964, was asked if he thought there were cases in which abortion should be permissible. He responded, “You have either killed or not killed, there can be no half death. I’m very clear, there are no ifs and buts.” Archbishop Charles Scicluna added, “The womb of a mother is something that is dear and holy; it is there that human life can grow. Let us pray that the womb remains a place of life, not a place where killing takes place,” he said.