[WATCH] Robert Abela hints at President’s discomfort with abortion amendment

The Prime Minister says government remains open to changing the wording of the abortion amendment but not to neutralise the protection it introduces for doctors and women

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Robert Abela has hinted that President George Vella is uncomfortable with proposed legislation that allows abortion if a woman’s health or life is at risk.

The Prime Minister did not comment on reports that Vella would resign rather than sign the legislation if parliament approves it. However, Abela told reporters there had been other times when presidents had concerns or reservations on laws approved by parliament.

“I have had discussions with the President, not only on this amendment but on other things as well during our regular monthly meeting,” the Prime Minister said, insisting that any question on what the President will do should be addressed to him.

Abela said government remained open to changing the wording of the law if it was necessary to clarify the intentions behind it but remained steadfast that any changes should not neutralise the protection it gives doctors and women.

When pressed on what will happen if the President refuses to sign the law, Abela insisted parliament has not yet even arrived at voting stage.

“We will continue discussions not only with President Vella but other stakeholders,” Abela said.

Earlier today, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses said it will be meeting the Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne over concerns raised by nurses and midwives on the proposed amendment.

The principle aim of the amendment is to give doctors and women legal protection from criminal action if a termination of pregnancy is the result of medical intervention to save a woman’s life or safeguard her health, Abela said. He added that it was his belief that the wording as proposed provided the best possible protection.

“If the wording of the proposed amendment is changed to overturn this aim we could have otherwise closed our eyes and done nothing but doing so is no longer an option in wake of the State Advocate’s advice that the law as it is today offers no protection to doctors and women from criminal action,” the Prime Minister said.

A similar impasse with the President arose earlier this year when parliament voted to introduce pre-implantation genetic testing in IVF, something George Vella was uncomfortable with. Eventually, it was the acting president who signed on the law while Vella was abroad on official duties.

However, Vella has been categorical on abortion in several interviews he gave since becoming President, insisting he would refuse to sign the law if it came before him and would resign.

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