Protests in Malta as Parliament debates an abortion amendment

VALLETTA, December 4 (Reuters) – A large picture of an unborn baby was put up outside the office of Malta’s prime minister on Sunday as protesters called on the government to halt plans to change the country’s tough anti-abortion laws.

The protest, the largest in years, drew several thousand people, including Malta’s supreme Catholic bishop and the leader of the conservative opposition, but was spearheaded by a centre-left former President, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca.

“We are here to be the voice of the unborn child,” said 19-year-old university student Maria Formosa, one of the speakers at the rally. “Life is always lost through abortion.”

Some of those present carried placards with slogans such as “Keep abortion from Malta” and “Protect our children”. They also chanted “No to abortion, yes to life”.

Traditionally Catholic, Malta is the only member of the European Union to ban abortion under all circumstances, even when a woman’s life or health is at risk as a result of her pregnancy.

Last week, Health Secretary Chris Fearne tabled an amendment in Parliament that would stop doctors from risking up to four years in prison if their intervention to help women with serious health problems causes a pregnancy to end.

To date, no doctor has been prosecuted for such allegations.

The centre-right opposition, the powerful Catholic Church and some non-governmental organizations have called the change unnecessary and pave the way for full liberalization of abortion, a demand rejected by the ruling centre-left Labor Party.

Prime Minister Robert Abela’s government has a comfortable majority and has shown no dissent within its ranks, but opinion polls show a large majority against abortion, particularly among the elderly.

No one from the government commented on Sunday’s protest.

The move to change abortion rules comes after a US tourist, Andrea Prudente, was denied a request to terminate a non-viable pregnancy in June after she began bleeding profusely.

Her doctors said her life was in danger and she was eventually transferred to Spain where she had an abortion. She later sued the Maltese government, asking the courts to declare that banning abortion under all circumstances violates human rights.

The case has not yet come to court.

Reporting by Christopher Scicluna; Edited by Alvise Armellini and David Holmes

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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