Article by Archbishop Charles Scicluna

Life is precious. Only a few days ago, we were served a bitter reminder of just how precious one life can be following the horrific murder of Bernice Cassar. As a nation, we are understandably shocked and angry that such an act can take place in our community. 

While offering prayers for Bernice and her family, I could not help but feel an immense tug in my heart for her children whose lives will be forever changed by this tragedy. May the Lord watch over them.

Dark moments like these should also cause us to reflect on whether we are doing all we can to foster a more caring and responsive society especially when it comes to the most vulnerable in our midst. This category no doubt encompasses women subjected to domestic violence. But it also includes children, be they born or unborn, and it is here that Malta has reached a pivotal crossroads: 

Is our Parliament about to fling open a door that will make it possible, on a spurious pretext, to extinguish the life of an unborn child or will our parliamentarians instead choose a course that safeguards the lives of the most blameless and defenceless among us?

As a Church, we fully acknowledge the suffering caused by unwanted pregnancies. Pope Francis has spoken openly of the “profound anguish” experienced by those who consider abortion to be a quick solution “especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty”.

“Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?” he poignantly asks. Who indeed? We should never be swift to condemn. And as the Holy Father emphasises with typical candour, we can all do more to accompany these women on their journey. 

However, the Church also acknowledges the right to life from conception to natural death and is an unashamed and resolute defender of this right. As the Pope says: “A human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.” This principle is not for sale or eligible for a discount. It must remain non-negotiable. 

The legal amendment to legislation currently banning abortion about to come before Parliament neither promotes the dignity of women nor safeguards the life of the unborn child. Quite the contrary, whether inadvertently or not, it facilitates termination or whatever euphemism is used by lobbyists to make the killing of another human being sound more palatable. 

The amendment, as presented, opens by stating that an abortion can be carried out in circumstances where a woman’s life is at risk. While this element of the provision may seem relatively benign, it will fail to safeguard the rights of an unborn child unless these circumstances are more clearly defined.  

However, as is often the case, the pernicious devil is in the detail. The proposed amendment contemplates an alternative scenario, also permitting the killing of an unborn child where a pregnant woman’s “health is in grave jeopardy”. This means we would be living under a new reality whereby the law will permit a termination to take place even in circumstances where the mother’s life is not in danger. 

Moreover, who would be authorised to take such a decision? Will this burden be placed on individual medical practitioners? And according to what criteria? None is specified in the law. The only certainty is that this provision would place us on slippery slope to intolerable abuse with no obvious exit. 

A panel of experts from the University of Malta has submitted to legislators an alternative provision which strictly limits the possibility of emergency medical procedures to instances where “there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the mother’s life from a physical illness”.

While no law can ever be watertight, the academics’ proposal provides much better safeguards for the rights of unborn children while at the same time offering warranted protection for a mother’s life and sparing our doctors the burden of unenviable dilemmas and potential prosecution. 

I appeal to our legislators to see reason and adopt the academics’ proposal  because, as the Holy Father says, “reason alone is sufficient to recognise the inviolable value of each single human life.” And because life is indeed very precious.

✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
    Arċisqof ta’ Malta

The article was first published in the Sunday Times of Malta