On December 4, 2022, the streets of Valetta, Malta, were packed with people hoisting pink signs and large photographs of babies in the womb. The crowd—20,000 strong—headed to Castille Square, the largest in the capital, and placed an enormous photo of a newborn baby on the steps leading to Prime Minister Robert Abela’s office as chants of “Long live life! No to abortion!” rang from the walls. From the square the crowd marched to Republic Street, where former President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, former EU Commissioner Tonio Borg, Irish MP Carol Nolan, retired judge Giovanni Bonello, Life Network CEO Dr. Miriam Sciberras, and other guests delivered speeches.
The protest consisted of a full 4% of the Maltese population and was one of the largest in the nation’s recent history. The attendees were of all ages and religious beliefs and hailed from across the political spectrum, from the leader of the conservative opposition to a center-Left former president. Their slogans highlighted what united them: “Keep abortion out of Malta”; “No to abortion, yes to life”; “Protect our children.” The marchers were protesting the government’s decision to put forward a bill to introduce abortion. Prior to the protest, a petition had been signed by 26,000 people calling on the government to reject the proposed legislation.
As pro-life regimes such as the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have fallen over the past several years, abortion activists have fixed their attention on Malta, the smallest country in the European Union. Malta is a central Mediterranean archipelago between Sicily and the coast of North Africa with a population of 500,000. Although church attendance has been declining steadily in recent years, Malta is still officially Roman Catholic—and the last country in the EU where abortion is illegal (the criminal code prohibition dates to 1724). According to reports, around 300 Maltese women seek abortions outside the country each year. If the current Labour government has their way, that may change.
I recently spoke with Dr. Miriam Sciberras, one of Malta’s pro-life leaders, about the battle underway for the lives of the pre-born. It has been months since the international mainstream media predicted that abortion legislation would pass in Malta, but thus far pro-life efforts have been successful—although the battle is far from over. It began in 2021, when American tourist Andrea Predente requested and was refused an abortion after suffering ruptured membranes during pregnancy. She was airlifted to Spain where she procured a termination via early delivery. Following this, the government announced a review of the abortion ban. Health Minister Chris Fearne insisted that the case highlighted the need for a more permissive abortion regime.
It is important to note that Malta’s pro-life regime has resulted in zero maternal mortalities in the past decade, and Malta has one of the best maternal health records in the world. “In Malta, doctors are protected, and have been protected for generations, to do what is necessary if the mother’s life is in danger, even if that means that the inevitable consequence would be the death of the child,” Sciberras told me. Indeed, women have always had access to life-saving treatment—but pro-abortion propaganda from the Americas to Europe insists that women will die if children in the womb are protected. In the Prudente case, Sciberras noted, it has since been established in court of law that her life was not in danger. Nevertheless, this case—like the case of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland—is being cited as evidence for the necessity of an abortion amendment in Malta’s criminal code. Sciberras says that the pro-life movement supports affirming the right of medical professionals to give life-saving care, but not legalizing abortion because “it is the killing of a human being.”
The public is on her side. An “absolute majority” of the Maltese people oppose abortion—60% told the Times of Malta that they would drop their political party over support for abortion, while the Independent put the number at 58%. The march in Valetta highlighted public support for the pro-life regime. As Sciberras noted,
I don’t think we’ve seen such a turnout like this since the 1980s. The people in Malta really and truly do not want abortion. Most media support abortion, and there is pressure from Europe to push this forward. But the pro-life coalition is a determined and human-rights-based group. We believe that abortion is the greatest human rights issue of all time, and that abortion is the greatest injustice. Considering our demographic concerns, it is self-defeating to abort our children when we need them so much.
After multiple delays, Malta’s Labour government still plans to release an abortion amendment to the criminal code reading that no offence has been perpetrated “when the termination of a pregnancy results from a medical intervention aimed at protecting the health of a pregnant woman suffering from a medical complication which may put her life at risk or health in grave jeopardy.” A key concern is the inclusion of the phrase “health in grave jeopardy,” a loophole that in other jurisdictions has thrown the door open for physicians to interpret ‘health’ broadly enough to permit almost any termination, a scenario which unfolded in the UK, New Zealand, and elsewhere. Malta’s pro-life coalition, made up of over 70,000 members, has stated that they have not been consulted and that the government is acting on behalf of a few interested groups without an electoral mandate.
“The bill in its current form would allow abortion on demand to take place in Malta,” Sciberras told me. “If the bill becomes law, Malta will go from being the only country in Europe with full protection for the unborn child to legalising abortion. We are calling on the government to urgently change the wording of the bill to adopt the recommended changes outlined in the expert position paper by leading medics, lawyers, ethicists, and academics.” The amendment is opposed by 81 academics, 450 doctors, 44 institutions, the Medical Association of Malta, and the Maltese Association of Psychiatry. The coalition has proposed a clarification to the criminal code that would preclude abortion:
No crime is committed under article 241(2) or article 243 when the death or bodily harm of an unborn child results from a medical intervention conducted with the aim of saving the life of the mother where there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the mother’s life from a physical illness.
Malta’s pro-life coalition is apolitical and religiously diverse. While the pro-life worldview has always had Christian roots—the pagans thought nothing of leaving children to die on exposure walls or using abortifacients—the advent of modern science has made a broader coalition of those who simply hold to a consistent philosophy of human rights. In 2021, Maltese president George Vella told me in an interview that his years of medical training strengthened his convictions as he discovered more “about the amazing transformations happening in the body and the uterus during all stages of pregnancy.”
“I would be the first one to give anybody the right to dissent, to have the freedom to act as one wishes,” he said. “However, what we are talking about with this issue is something unique. We are talking about a life and we are not talking only about the pregnant woman’s body. … We are talking about another human being, with his or her unique set of chromosomes, and his or her complete and distinct identity. … We are talking in euphemistic terms about killing a baby.” At the time, he told me that if he was presented with legislation legalizing abortion, he would not sign it.
Malta’s pro-life movement is battling in defence of the youngest and most vulnerable members of their society, and it is an inspiring thing to see. Two decades into the 21st century, there is fight in Old Europe yet.