Anti-abortion speech: “The President is merely upholding the law”

Vincent de Gaetano

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent De Gaetano told Newsbook.com.mt that President George Vella was merely upholding the law when he recently made a pro-life speech in which he took a public stand against the legalisation of abortion.

The former Judge of the European Court of Human Rights added that “I see no problem in the President expressing his views, or indeed concerns, over a number of issues, be they social, educational, environmental, even political.”

Clear pro-life stand 

President Vella sent a clear message against the legalisation of abortion from the beginning of his presidency. But after President Vella addressed a pro-life rally organised by the Malta Unborn Child Platform held February 2, the pro-abortion coalition Voice For Choice strongly criticised him. They considered his pro-life message as “an astounding insult to all those who care about civil rights and equality in our country.”

During that rally, he described abortion as the murder of a baby in a woman’s womb. He also could not understand how countries were still condemning capital punishment but then condoning capital punishment on the unborn.

Newsbook.com.mt asked the former Chief Justice and former Judge of the European Court of Human Rights for his opinion following comments that President Vella was not acting correctly when he made that speech.

Are there Constitutional limits?

Newsbook.com.mt: Are there any constitutional limits for the President’s freedom of speech? 

Chief Justice Emeritus De Gaetano: The Constitution does not spell out what the President can say publicly or what he should avoid speaking about. The “constitutional limits”, as you put it, on his (or her) freedom of speech can only be deduced, not without a certain amount of imprecision, from the role of the President in the structure of the Constitution and the constitutional theory, largely British, surrounding the proper behaviour of the Head of State. The rule of thumb is that the President, being above party politics, should not wade into party political controversies except in an attempt to bring about a resolution of those controversies.

Newsbook.com.mt: Does President  Vella’s stand against abortion amount to – using your words –wading into party political controversies?

Chief Justice Emeritus De Gaetano:  President Vella’s stand against procured abortion has nothing to do with such controversies – as far as I am aware both the current Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are reading from the same score on the question of procured abortion. It is also fully in conformity with what the law actually says, namely that procured abortion is a crime – so the President is merely upholding the law, just as one would expect him to speak against drug abuse, fraud, money-laundering and so on. I see no problem in the President expressing his views, or indeed concerns, over a number of issues, be they social, educational, environmental, even political.  

Conscience matters

Newsbook.com.mt: Is this an issue of conscience?

Chief Justice Emeritus De Gaetano: The issue of the possible legalisation, under one pretext or another, of procured abortion raises also grave questions of conscience. By expressing his views President Vella has given subtle “notice to mariners” that should he be faced with a law which would allow procured abortion, he would resign rather than assent to the law, as signing that law would be tantamount to him signing the death warrant for countless unborn children. President Vella has shown that for him at least, conscience matters. And I will drink to that.