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Explainer – How pro-lifers in Malta achieved a major victory and stopped abortion coming to Malta

A major pro-life victory has been achieved in Malta after their Labour Government backed down on their plans to introduce abortion on demand in the European country, which has full legal protection for the unborn child enshrined in law, following mass protests.

The Right To Life News team has spoken to a number of the pro-life campaigners involved with the campaign, as well as conducting its own research to produce this article that provides a full account of this pro-life victory.

June 2022 – The Prudente case

In June 2022, Malta came under international pressure to review its abortion legislation after it was claimed that Andrea Prudente, a US citizen who was pregnant, had been denied an abortion that was needed to save her life in June 2022 when she was in Malta on holiday. At the time, much misinformation was circulated online about abortion legislation in Malta.

Img 1 The country of Malta came under international pressure to review its abortion legislation following the Prudente case

The country of Malta came under international pressure to review its abortion legislation following the Prudente case.

Doctors in Malta immediately released statements to clarify how the law operated in Malta.

Professor George Gregory Buttigieg, who is a professor of obstetrics based in Malta, said: “Maltese law and medical precedent are absolutely clear: if a woman’s life is at risk from her pregnancy, then it is absolutely legal for her pregnancy to be ended by delivering the child, even if that child has a heartbeat, and even if the child will sadly pass away. This would not be seen in Maltese law or medicine as an abortion. As a Professor of Obstetrics, I have delivered babies prematurely in life threatening situations and have never been worried about legal repercussions”.

Much later on it it was revealed that the actual situation surrounding the Prudente case appeared to have been misreported. 

Professor Yves Muscat Baron, an obstetrician and gynaecologist who chairs the Maternity and Gynaecology Department at Mater Dei Hospital where Andrea Prudente was treated, testified that “The patient had never been in danger of death”. 

This testimony in court happened in January 2023, months after momentum had grown globally to put pressure on Malta to change its abortion laws. There was no international media coverage covering the actual evidence from the teams involved in the case that indicated that the original reporting of the case appeared to have been incorrect.

This mirrored what has been seen with the Savita Halappanavar case in the Republic of Ireland in 2012. Initial reports from a campaigning journalist at the Irish Times had claimed that Savita had died because she had been refused an abortion under Ireland’s pro-life legislation.

However, in 2013, a coroner’s inquest found that Savita Halappanavar had not died as a result of Ireland’s pro-life legislation. The exhaustive investigation established that the actual cause of her death was an infection with a virulent antibiotic-resistant strain of E.coli compounded by a series of systems failures.

Img 2 The Republic of Ireland came under intense international pressure to change their pro life legislation following the Savita Halappanavar case

The Republic of Ireland came under intense international pressure to change their pro-life legislation following the Savita Halappanavar case.

Two additional investigations, undertaken by the Irish Health watchdog HIQA (Health, Information and Quality Authority) and an independent report for the Irish Health Service (the HSE), found that her death was due to medical failures.

This was covered at length in a feature documentary that aired on TV3 in Ireland in 2014. 

But by the time the results of the inquest and two additional investigations were published, like Malta, the outcomes of these investigations were not widely reported internationally and pro-abortion campaigners had already used the case to build a large amount of momentum for their campaign to repeal Ireland’s eighth amendment, which recognised the equal right to life of the pregnant woman and the unborn.

Large amounts of money flooded into Ireland from pro-abortion organisations and billionaire donors overseas following the case of Savita Halappanavar’s death, with the specific goal of removing Ireland’s pro-life legislation, and so Ireland came under intense pressure internationally to change its legislation.

Subsequently, international pressure appeared to be focused on a new target: Malta.

November 2022 – Government Bill brought forward that went much further than Government claimed

Following pressure locally and internationally from pro-abortion campaigners that had gained momentum between June and November 2022, the Maltese Government, led by Prime Minister Robert Abela, brought forward an abortion bill to the Maltese Parliament.

Img 3 Maltas Prime Minister Robert Albela

Malta’s Prime Minister, Robert Abela.

The Government had earlier indicated that it planned to introduce a change to legislation that would have been limited to codifying into law the current practice in Malta, whereby physicians remain free to intervene in cases where continued pregnancy is thought to be a threat to the mother’s life. In such cases, doctors can act to save the life of the mother, even if this results in the undesired death of the child.

However, the Bill which received a First Reading in the Maltese Parliament on the afternoon of 21 November 2022, went much further than simply codifying current practice into law. Instead, the amendment that was proposed included legalising abortion to protect the health of a pregnant woman who has medical complications that “may” put her “health in grave jeopardy”.

The wording in the Bill was very similar to the “risk of injury to health” language that is used in the Abortion Act that was in place in England, Scotland and Wales, which was passed into law in 1967. While this appeared to UK Parliamentarians at the time to be narrowly drafted to permit abortion in very limited circumstances, in practice the inclusion of this provision has allowed for widespread abortion on demand to occur.

Statistics from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care show that in 2021, over 200,000 abortions were performed under the ‘health’ clause in England and Wales, accounting for 98% of abortions that took place that year.

The vast majority of the over ten million abortions that have happened in the UK since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1967 have been allowed under this same ‘health’ clause in the law.

A number of other jurisdictions globally have included similar ‘health’ provisions (including previous laws in states in Australia and New Zealand) that have, in practice, allowed abortions on demand in very high numbers to happen in those jurisdictions.

Dr Calum Miller, doctor and research associate at the University of Oxford specialising in abortion policy, at the time said in a tweet “The government of Malta has announced a Bill allowing abortion for ‘health’ reasons. This is without any doubt an open gate to abortion on demand. Everyone who knows pro-life people in or from Malta should contact them now to alert them to this imminent danger. For example, Great Britain legalised abortion only for health reasons in 1967, a law still in place. Yet 1 in 4 pregnancies in GB end in abortion, 200,000 a year. This is abortion on demand by stealth”.

Abortion in Malta by Christmas

The tactic of introducing what appears to be restrictive abortion legislation, including abortion on health grounds that, in practice, introduces abortion on demand in a country, has been used successfully by international abortion NGOs in a number of countries.

It appeared that those involved with bringing forward the legislation to Malta expected this tactic to work again. The Maltese Government claimed that they were simply codifying current practice into law and to say otherwise was scaremongering.

The Government also enjoyed a majority in Parliament holding 44 (56%) of the 79 seats in the Maltese Parliament and it has been very rare than MPs have defied the Labour whip and voted against Government legislation, so it looked like they had the numbers to pass the legislation, despite the opposition party (the Nationalist Party) not supporting the Bill.

With an enormous amount of momentum behind the Bill, it appeared that it was almost a foregone conclusion that it would pass and the Government made it clear that they wanted to push it quickly through Parliament, finishing all its stages and becoming law in time for Christmas 2022, less than five weeks after the Bill had received a First Reading at the end of November.

Img 4 Headlines from around the world report on the Maltese Governments abortion bill

Headlines from around the world report on the Maltese Government’s abortion bill.

A foregone conclusion

It appeared that the tactics from the international abortion NGO playbook were working even better than had been expected. Even members of pro-life organisations based overseas, who had first-hand experience of seeing this same model rolled out in other countries, told local campaigners that they had effectively already lost.

To onlookers, what was unfolding in Malta was exceptionally upsetting. 

The people of Malta overwhelmingly supported the pro-life legislation that was in place, with polls consistently showing that it was one of the most pro-life countries in the world. 

Recent polling showed that 97% of the population opposed unrestricted abortion at whatever stage of pregnancy and 90% of the population in Malta opposed unrestricted abortion being available in the first three months of pregnancy.

As a result of this unique law and culture, there were likely thousands of people alive because Malta has not enacted similar legislation to the UK’s Abortion Act. For the people of Malta, these were their sisters, brothers, friends, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins.

The Republic of Ireland voted in 2018 to introduce abortion, Northern Ireland had abortion forced on it by the UK Government in 2020. Now the only country left that had full legal protection for the unborn child was Malta, and it was about to fall.

Malta would go from being the only country in Europe with full protection for the unborn child to having one of the most extreme abortion regimes in the world. 

Tens of thousands of lives would likely be lost to abortion in Malta.

Img 5 The country of Malta would go from having full protection for the unborn child to having one of the most radical abortion regimes in the world

The country of Malta would go from having full protection for the unborn child to having one of the most radical abortion regimes in the world.

The fightback

Despite the increasingly pessimistic outlook, local pro-life campaigners, the largest of these being the organisation, Life Network Malta led by Dr Miriam Sciberras, were not giving up.

Dr Miriam Sciberras is a very prominent pro-life figure in Malta who had led the fight for decades to keep abortion out of the country. As well as being a full-time dentist and mother to nine, Dr Miriam has become the most recognisable face on Maltese broadcast television when it comes to debates on abortion, along with her work to run education programmes in schools, lobbying efforts in Parliament, large national campaigns and rallies, as well as providing emotional and material support to mothers with unplanned pregnancies.

Img 6 Dr Miriam Sciberras

Dr Miriam Sciberras.

The tireless Dr Miriam has not stopped there. Acknowledging that stopping abortion coming to Malta is only half the battle, she has worked tirelessly setting up pregnancy support centres and housing for women, so that they have had the support in place so they do not feel they have to seek an abortion when they faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

Thousands of lives have been saved by the work of Dr Miriam Sciberras, Life Network and the wider pro-life movement in Malta, and thousands of women facing unplanned pregnancies have been supported by their work.

There was no way that Dr Miriam was going to be letting abortion into Malta and she set to work.

The great pro-life nation of Malta wakes up

On 23 November 2022, over 80 Maltese academics issued a position paper that examined the proposed abortion law and outlined how it would effectively introduce abortion on demand in Malta.  

Volunteers for Life Network and the wider pro-life movement in Malta came together and, within days, the largest pro-life campaign that had ever been run in Malta was launched. 

The campaign was called Inti Tista’ Ssalvani, which translates to English as simply “You can save me”.

Pro-life campaigners identified early on that, given the Government had a majority in Parliament and their MPs very rarely rebelled on votes, a Parliamentary campaign to win votes was not going to work.

Placard displaying the campaign name Inti Tista Ssalvani which translates into English as You can save me cutout

Placard displaying the campaign name Inti Tista’ Ssalvani, which translates into English as “You can save me”.

They knew that to win they had to launch a much bigger undertaking and effectively mobilise the country against the Bill. This would ensure that it became clear to the Government that if the Bill passed, they would likely lose at the next general election – and that they would have to undertake a major ‘u-turn’ in order to save themselves from a major electoral defeat.

The call to action “You can save me” was a direct appeal to the people of Malta that demonstrated the stakes involved, the lives of thousands of babies, and that it was within their power to mobilise and save these babies.

Within a day of the campaign launching, it had been so effective at mobilising dissent against the Bill that MPs reported that they had received more emails, visits and phone calls from their constituents than on any other issue in Maltese history.

Campaigners knew this was not enough. The Government had to see the scale of dissent directly on the streets of Malta and so plans were put into action to run a major rally against the Bill on the streets of Malta’s capital, Valletta.

As the Bill was being fast-tracked through Parliament, the major protest had to be run as soon as possible and was planned for Sunday 4 December 2022.

This was at exceptionally short notice to run a major event, and volunteers worked day and night to mobilise people and organise the protest.

One of the largest demonstrations in recent Maltese history

Late in the afternoon on Sunday 4 December, the rally began with the gathering of thousands of people in Castille Square and adjoining streets, placing a large banner of a newborn baby on the stairs leading up to Castille, the office of the Maltese Prime Minister.

Img 8 A large banner of a newborn baby on the stairs leading up to Castille the office of the Maltese Prime Minister

A large banner of a newborn baby on the stairs leading up to Castille, the office of the Maltese Prime Minister.

The demonstrators then proceeded in their thousands to Republic Street, led by former Maltese president, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca.

The number of people who turned up for the rally far exceeded even the expectations of campaigners who organised the protest, with over 20,000 people taking to the streets.

The demonstration was one of the largest protests in recent Maltese history, showing that the deeply pro-life people of Malta were willing to take to the streets en masse to keep abortion out of Malta. 

To put in perspective how big a turnout this was, a turnout from the same proportion of the population in the UK would see over 2.6 million people take to the streets of London – the largest protest in UK history, the 2003 Stop the War protest, had an estimated 1.2 million turnout in London.

The crowd chanted “Viva l-ħajja, le għall-abort” (long live life, no to abortion) as they marched through the streets of Malta’s capital, Valletta.

The crowd were all given beautifully designed placards and the pink Inti Tista’ Ssalvani branding could be seen across banners, screens and other items that made up the rally. As the crowd was so large, screens and massive speakers were placed along the route so that all assembled could watch the live stream of the rally and the speeches that were given at the end.

The rally had the look and feel of a major world-class event in one of the world’s largest cities, put on by a major organisation with a very large amount of funding. This showed the Government that the pro-life movement of Malta meant business. 

No -one there on the day would have guessed that the entire event had been organised on a shoestring budget by a group of volunteers with such little notice.

Img 9 20000 people take to the streets of Malta

20,000 people take to the streets of Malta.

The baby

At the centre of the protest was a giant banner of a newborn baby, which was initially placed on the steps of the Prime Minister’s office. 

It was then lifted by a crowd of around 50 people, who carried it on their shoulders, representing the people of Malta carrying, protecting and supporting the tens of thousands of babies that had been saved by Malta’s pro-life legislation.

As dusk began to draw, drone footage of the rally captured the amazing scene of 20,000 people packing out the narrow ancient streets of Valletta. At the centre, the banner of the baby carried along the streets reminded the Government, the people of Malta and those around the world who saw footage of the rally, of the humanity of the unborn child.

The rally ended with a large stage on Republic Street where a line-up of well-known Maltese figures gave speeches to the crowd assembled. 

Addressing the crowd, the former President, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, said “We appeal to the government to meet with experts, civil organisations, to discuss with the stakeholders and to take note of the position paper”, referencing the paper signed by over 80 academics expressing “grave concern” about the proposed law. 

She urged members of the media to reflect “the rights of the mother and the child that is without a voice”.

Retired judge, Giovanni Bonello, said that this new law would open the door to “abortion on demand”. He argued that nurses, doctors and women were adequately protected under current legislation.

He also said “No nurse, no doctor, or woman was taken to court because the pregnancy was terminated to safeguard the mother’s life”.

Img 10 Speakers address the crowd from the large stage on Republic Street

Speakers address the crowd from the large stage on Republic Street.

The final speech of the day was given by Dr Miriam who rallied the people of Malta assembled to ensure the Government did not introduce abortion in Malta.

She said “Nights away from Christmas, this amendment has come up … This is not a door or window to abortion, but a runway to abortion”.

Dr Miriam galvanised the crowd with her rousing speech, leaving the people of Malta with a renewed resolve to show the Government how outraged they were at the prospect of abortion being legalised in their country.

Img 11 Dr Miriam Sciberras gives the final speech of the evening

Dr Miriam Sciberras gives the final speech of the evening.

The Maltese government goes quiet

There was extensive media coverage of the rally locally and it was picked up by a number of international media outlets.

It was now clear to the Maltese Government that they were going to have a major fight on their hands and that the people of Malta did not want abortion to be introduced in their country.

The Maltese Government then went quiet. Initially, they had been planning to pass their proposed abortion bill into law by Christmas, but the Bill’s progress had now ground to a halt.

Pro-lifers knew that each day that the abortion bill was delayed further, the introduction of abortion in Malta would be delayed by a day and more lives would be saved. 

While the saving of these lives was a victory in itself, the bigger, much more ambitious, goal was to have the Government make a major ‘u-turn’ and back down on introducing abortion in Malta.

Pro-life campaigners continued month after month putting pressure on the Government to amend the Bill so that it would not introduce abortion in Malta.

In early June 2023, Malta’s President, George Vella, made it clear that he would resign if the Government passed their Bill as it stood and therefore introduced abortion in Malta. This would have been the first presidential resignation since Malta became a republic and the Prime Minister did not want the backlash of this having happened on his watch, so this seems to have been a key moment in solidifying the Government’s ‘u-turn’. It had likely been much easier for the President to make such a bold move given that it was so clear that he had the backing of the people of Malta on this issue.

Pro-life victory – Government announces major ‘u-turn’ and backs down

After months of silence, on 23 June 2023, six months after they had initially proposed the abortion bill, the Government made an announcement, widely covered in international media, that they would be making major changes to the wording of the Bill. Once the wording had been amended, the Nationalist Party and the President were happy to give their support to the Bill for the first time.

Img 12 Media outlets report on the Maltese Government making a major ‘u turn on their abortion bill

Media outlets report on the Maltese Government making a major ‘u-turn’ on their abortion bill.

Pro-lifers confirmed that the new wording “does not introduce abortion to Malta but would codify the existing life-saving practices currently being applied in Malta, and provide further safeguards for mothers, unborn babies, and doctors”. 

Dr Miriam Sciberras issued a statement: “The voice of the people of Malta has been very clear: we are a pro-life nation, valuing every life, the mother that deserves our utmost protection especially when in difficulty, the unborn child that today we have saved, thanks to this new version of the legislation, we will continue to do this”.

An amazing victory has been achieved in Malta. Thousands of lives will likely be saved from abortion because of the hard work and determination of the people of Malta to stop abortion from being introduced in their country.

This victory should be an inspiration for the pro-life movement globally. 

When pro-lifers come across seemingly insurmountable challenges in future, they can beat the odds by being realistically optimistic, professional, highly organised and working very hard to never give up, because when it comes to abortion, lives are truly at stake.

The pro-life movement in Malta is rightly happy with what they have achieved, but they are not taking it for granted. 

They know that abortion campaigners will be back soon with the next fight, but for now, they can sleep a little easier at night knowing that they defied all expectations and kept abortion out of Malta.

The babies of Malta are safe, for now at least.

Img 13 The people of Malta carry the baby on their shoulders through the streets of Valletta

The people of Malta carry the baby on their shoulders through the streets of Valletta.

Dear reader,

MPs will shortly vote on proposed changes to the law, brought forward by Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Diana Johnson, that would introduce the biggest change to our abortion laws since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1967.

These proposed changes to the law would make it more likely that healthy babies are aborted at home for any reason, including sex-selective purposes, up to birth.

Polling undertaken by ComRes, shows that only 1% of women support introducing abortion up to birth and that 91% of women agree that sex-selective abortion should be explicitly banned by the law.

Please click the button below to contact your MP now and ask them to vote no to these extreme changes to our law. It only takes 30 seconds using our easy-to-use tool.