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Malta govt backs down on abortion bill after protests


VALLETTA (Reuters) – Malta’s government on Friday backed down on a bill which would have allowed the abortion of pregnancies when the mother’s health was at serious risk, saying instead that terminations would only be allowed when the mother’s life was in danger.

Malta is the only country in the European Union which does not allow any form of termination, and the original bill had raised a storm of protest, with anti-abortion campaigners saying the definition of what constituted a health risk was too wide.

Local media had reported that the country’s president, George Vella, had told the government he would resign rather than sign the bill as originally drafted into law.

The reports were never denied and Vella had made his disquiet publicly known, repeatedly appealing for a revision of the text.

Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Friday that the bill was being amended so that termination could only take place in a situation where a mother’s life was in danger, once all other possible treatment had been exhausted.

That procedure must be agreed by three doctors and may only take place in a licensed clinic.

At present, a doctor is liable to up to four years in jail if he terminates a pregnancy to save the mother’s life.

Abortion will remain illegal under all other circumstances including rape, incest and severe foetal abnormalities.

The reform was drawn up after a U.S. tourist, Andrea Prudente, was refused a request in June 2022 to terminate a non-viable pregnancy after she began to bleed profusely.

Her doctors said her life was at risk and she was eventually transferred to Spain where she had an abortion.

The bill as revised is expected to be approved by parliament in the coming weeks.

(Reporting by Christopher Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Andrew Cawthorne)

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