“No abortion? No equality, no democracy.”

Hopeful of change, Maltese pro-choice activists cast their eyes toward the European Parliament in their bid to end Malta's isolation as the sole EU member state with a near-total abortion ban.

Access to abortion is critical for full equality and democracy in society, claimed three MEPs, urging Malta to change its legislation and cease being the only EU Member State with an almost total ban on abortion.

“You can’t say you have gender equality before people have the right to decide whether they want to be pregnant or not. The State, the Church, and any other religion should not come in between a patient and their doctor,” said MEP Karen Melchior (Renew Europe).

The Danish European legislator was speaking at a discussion on ‘Women’s Sexual Rights in Malta’, organised by Maltese Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer (Socialists and Democrats) at the European Parliament in Brussels. Engerer is the only Maltese politician to have voted in favour of abortion being declared a fundamental human right, to be added to tħe European Charter of Fundamental Human Rights in the next EU Treaty revision. He also voted for a lack of access to abortion to ultimately be considered violence against women. The discussion was attended by around 80 human rights activists and others from Malta, including Partit Laburista CEO, Randolph Debattista.

MEP Karen Melchior (Renew Europe). Photo: David Mallia

Referring specifically to the situation in Malta, MEP Melchior described the recent legislative changes as a step backwards instead of a step forward towards proper healhcare for women and other pregnant persons in the country. “It is so important that we keep fighting for our rights, because this is a fight for democracy – our democracy is in danger when these rights are being attacked,” she claimed. She urged Maltese activists not to be disheartened and to go on fighting for what they believe is right.

Poland: a beacon of hope

For his part, Polish MEP Robert Biedroń (Socialists and Democrats)  spoke of the latest developments in his home country, where eight years of  right-wing populist and national-conservative rule have just come to an end. He spoke about how nearly 100 localities around Poland had been declared “LGBT-free zones”, while women were left to die because of the lack of access to legal termination of pregnancy. Moreover, every pregnancy had to be officiallly registered and if someone terminated their pregnancy, the  State would investigate why. The tide is now turning and, for the first time, under the new government led by former European Council President Donald Tusk, the country has a minister responsible for equality.

MEP Robert Biedroń (Socialists and Democrats). Photo: David Mallia

“I know how difficult it is in Malta. I know it is unfair. I know you have a lot of expectations from the European Union,” he told the Maltese activists, urging them to never give up. He reminded them that, after having lost several battles, the human rights activists who risked so much in Poland have won the war.

Equality for all

Concluding the discussion, MEP Cyrus Engerer stressed that there is no equality in society unless everyone is equal. He said that while Malta’s progress on LGBTI rights and in economic growth is commendable, it must extend equal rights to women, migrants, refugees, and all others to truly be a nation of equality.

Engerer recalled how, after a pregnant foreign woman’s brush with death in Malta, there was a glimmer of hope that the country could move from a total ban on abortion to having less restrictive laws for pregnant persons whose health is in jeapardy. However, that hope was short-lived.

“Unfortunately, our parliament backtracked on that and, instead of moving forward, we ended up taking a few steps backwards,” he said, describing denying women the right to access heathcare when they need it most, whether for physical or mental health reasons, as unacceptable.

Photo: David Mallia

The Labour MEP called on the activists to remain strong and united in their fight for equality. Ireland and Poland, once considered conservative strongholds, have moved forward on this issue, and so can Malta, he said.

Reminding them that the European Parliament is there to represent all European citizens, he called on the Maltese people to leverage their power on the EP to make change and secure the equal rights they deserve.

Also taking part in the discussion were lawyer Lara Dimitrijevic, pro-choice doctors Natalie Psaila and Isabel Stabile, Swedish MEP Carina Ohlsson (S&D), equality and human rights activist Prof. Marceline Naudi, and Sarah Jayne Portelli, an Australian born, freelance writer and film director.

No Woman is an Island

During the discussion, a documentary directed by Sarah Janyne Portelli was previewed. ‘No Woman is an Island’, produced by Nexus Production Group, is yet to be released but bookings for screenings are being accepted. It is also available on the Beamafilm platform. The one-hour long production is an insightful sit down chat with five of Malta’s influential female trailblazers, all of whom are paving the way for change.

“Lift the ban”

Meanwhile, the activists’ campaign in Brussels continued outside the European Parliament. Carrying banners, chanting slogans, and drawing media attention, they made their presence felt in front of the EP’s main building  and Malta’s Permanent Representation to the EU, calling for the removal of the abortion ban back in Malta.

Photo: David Mallia

Main photo: Sandro Mangion

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4 months ago

Cyrus Engerer ( apart from being a relationship porn bully on the internet) is nit repesentative in his opinion of the Maltese people and is trying to use this and EU political backing to redeem himself. Very similar to the Prime minister who called him his soldier of steel (suldat ta l- azzar) and pushed him for MEP…. the same prime minister who as a journalist campaigned for Malta not to get into the EU and once we did used that as a strategy for ‘ burgling” the EU by selling the Maltese passport as a gate pass to the Schengen zone at the EU,’s security expense…. anything for Money. Know which procks you are hiding behind. If Malta wanted anything out of EU membership, it was control of corruption and rule of law, not introduction of abortion