Abortion: Your discomfort, her pain | Open letter to Prime Minister Abela

'You must surely realise that our country is at a crossroads. It can either go down the path of protecting women, or it can cave in to conservatives and continue to criminalise women for taking decisions that are in their best interest'

Dear Honourable Prime Minister Abela, 

As you well know, in 2021, then MP Marlene Farrugia tabled a Bill calling for the decriminalisation of abortion, something that Voice for Choice has been calling for since 2019. You chose to scuttle this for political reasons. 

Then, in 2022, a Bill was filed to allow abortion care in very limited and extreme circumstances. I saluted you then on behalf of every woman in Malta, for proposing this legal amendment because I believed this would make Malta a little safer for those who can get pregnant. Perhaps I was mistaken, because progress on Bill 28 now seems to have stalled. 

Over the past months, you have made it amply clear that you are well aware that anyone can have an abortion in Malta, and that indeed some 400 women a year do so. And yet, when faced with the knowledge that a woman who is being abused has been criminalised for doing so, the best you can do is say that you are “uncomfortable” with this situation. 

Uncomfortable is what I feel when I have been sitting too long in the same position or when I’m tired after a long clinic. 

The mother of a very young child who is entirely dependent on her; a mother with mental health issues and who is living in a violent home made a decision to take control over her own body. The same decision is taken by one woman every single day in Malta. And the best you can do is say you’re uncomfortable! 

My indignation knows no bounds. You must surely realise that our country is at a crossroads. It can either go down the path of protecting women, or it can cave in to conservatives and continue to criminalise women for taking decisions that are in their best interest.  

In case you are wondering how those living in Malta feel about criminalising these women, we actually know the answer. MaltaToday commissioned two telephone surveys in April 2021 and August 2022 using stratified random sampling of persons residing in Malta and Gozo.  

The August 2022 survey shows for the first time ever that the majority (53.3%) of respondents agree with the decriminalisation of abortion, with a 6.4% increase between 2021 and 2022. This is greater than the 4.6% margin of error inherent in the survey.  

We already knew that the majority (66.4%) of 18-35 year olds agreed with the decriminalisation of abortion. We now know that number increased by 5.3% between 2021 and 2022. We now also know that the majority (52.8%) of 36-50 year olds surveyed in 2022 agree with decriminalisation with a 7.3% increase between 2021 and 2022.  

The age group that showed the greatest increase (11.7%) in positive attitudes towards decriminalisation between 2021 and 2022 is actually that of older persons (52-65 years).  

So, we now have evidence that not only is there a majority of persons in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion (53.3%), but the shift extends across all age groups. I suspect that if the same survey questions were to be asked again, we would see yet another shift in favour of decriminalisation. 

Prime Minister, please also take a look at the physical or soft copy of the document, Dear Decision Makers, that was delivered to your office last year (I'm happy to send over another copy if needed). In it you will read over 50 first-hand accounts of the traumatic experiences that persons in Malta have had to endure as a result of the criminalisation of abortion. 

We have been advocating for decriminalisation since 2019 and we have been told repeatedly that this is not necessary because women are never prosecuted. Now we know that is not true. The courts of Malta have just given a conditional discharge to a woman charged with an abortion, presumably because the magistrate felt there were extenuating circumstances. Yet, the message that all those who could get pregnant have received from you, as Prime Minister, is that you feel discomfort in the situation. Have you and the government you lead considered her discomfort, or indeed her pain? You should be indignant, saddened and possibly enraged. I certainly am! 

I am angry at the state for failing yet again to protect a woman and livid at the court for berating this woman for not seeking alternative options. Please take the bold step of decriminalising abortion. You know it is the right thing to do for all those who can get pregnant.

Women in Malta live in fear and silence in their own home. They are terrified that someone will spill the beans and report them for breaking an archaic law that exists only in this one EU country. What are you going to do about your discomfort that women in Malta are criminalised because they need to protect themselves? 

Criminalised abortion is state-sanctioned violence. The mantra from both sides of the House that we need to talk more about this issue is frankly insulting. We have been talking and publishing our findings in the peer-reviewed literature for years now. 

It is the responsibility and duty of all elected officials to ensure that NO woman is ever prosecuted for being a woman! You all know what you need to do, and as all Maltese voters know, you have the power to make it happen. In the meantime, expect us to advocate strongly for the decriminalisation of abortion and for our laws to be up to international health standards. We will not rest until this happens. This is a promise.