Malta’s parliament began discussions on Monday to end a total ban on abortions. If passed, the bill would allow abortions if the health of a pregnant person is in “grave jeopardy.” Malta is currently one of only three European countries and the only EU member to ban all abortions no matter the reason.The bill seeks to amend two sections of the Maltese Criminal Code. § 241(2) punishes any woman seeking to purposefully miscarry with a prison sentence of 18 to 36 months, and § 243 bans any physician from participating in a purposeful miscarriage. Punishments for physicians include imprisonment from 18 to 48 months and a permanent ban from practicing medicine in Malta.Under the proposed amendments, the punishments for women and physicians will be set aside if the health of the mother is at risk due to a medical complication. Any abortion performed for another reason is still subject to punishment.Health Minister Chris Fearne, a former physician, tabled the bill for discussion. As health minister, he has pushed for reproductive rights in the heavily catholic country. Fearne claimed the reason Malta dropped significantly in European Consumer Report 2018 public health rankings was the lack of access to abortion and restriction of women’s rights. Ireland, which voted to allow abortion in May 2018, rose significantly in the rankings.The bill still faces discussions in the House and possible referral to parliament’s health committee. Fearne’s Labour Party holds a majority in the Maltese government making an eventual vote on the amendments a formality.
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