Absolute majority don’t want women sent to prison for abortion

Although the 2022 findings show that 27.5% agree with jailing women, this represents more than a 10-point drop over last year’s results

File photo
File photo

An absolute majority of people believe that women who have an abortion should not be sent to prison, according to a MaltaToday-Polar survey.

The findings show that 53.3% of people, up from 46.9% last year, disagree that women who terminate their pregnancy should be liable to a prison sentence of up to three years.

Maltese law criminalises abortion without exception. A woman can be imprisoned for up to three years, while the medical practitioner carrying out the abortion can be jailed for up to four years and lose their warrant.

The survey registered a significant drop in the number of people who agree with imprisonment for women. Although the 2022 findings show that 27.5% agree with jailing women, this represents more than a 10-point drop over last year’s results.

The young aged between 16 and 35 are the strongest opponents to sending women to prison with 71.1% disagreeing with existing legislation. Among the young, 16.7% agree with sending women who have an abortion to prison.

An absolute majority opposed to jail time also exists among those aged between 36 and 50 (52.8%). Within this cohort, 26.1% agree with prison sentences.

Among those aged between 51 and 65, 48.2% disagree with sending women to jail as opposed to 34.3%, who believe women should be imprisoned.

There is a more even split among those over 65, with 35.8% disagreeing with sending women to prison, while 36.5% agree.

The findings show no difference in how men and women view the topic.

The results show that 53.7% of women and 52.8% of men disagree with imprisoning women who terminate their pregnancy. On the flip side, 26.3% of women and 29.2% of men, agree that women should face jail time.

When analysed by political allegiance, the survey shows that 58.6% of people who voted for the Labour Party in last March’s election disagree with sending women to jail, while 29.7% agree.

A relative majority of Nationalist Party voters (48.3%) disagree with jail time for women who have an abortion as opposed to 36.2% who agree.

Less lenient towards medical professionals

But while the general trend has continued to shift away from the notion of punishing women by sending them to prison, people remain less lenient towards medical professionals, albeit less pronounced than last year.

A relative majority of 44.8%, down from 55% last year, agree that medical professionals who conduct an abortion or assist in the termination of a pregnancy should face jail time. The results also show that 37.3% disagree, which represents an increase of seven points since 2021.

The young are the most lenient on criminal liability for medical professionals with an absolute majority of 59.4% disagreeing that they should be sent to jail. This represents an increase of almost seven points on last year’s results.

There is almost an even split among those aged between 36 and 50 with 41.6% agreeing with jail time and 39.1% against.

More pronounced majorities in favour of prison time for medical professionals are found among the older age groups. 57.7% and 55.9% of those aged between 51 and 65, and pensioners respectively, agree with punishing professionals by sending them to prison.

Once again, there is little difference between how men and women view the matter. Although registering drops from last year, 44.2% and 45.6% of women and men respectively agree with prison terms for professionals who assist in an abortion. Last year, these figures stood at 52.6% and 52.2% respectively.

In terms of political allegiance, 51% of Labour voters in 2022 agree with prison terms for medical professionals, while 38.6% disagree. A similar pattern is found among PN voters with 50% in favour of jail terms, while 31% against.

The survey, conducted in August, came in the wake of the Andrea Prudente case that cast an international spotlight on Malta’s draconian anti-abortion laws.

Prudente, an American tourist, started to miscarry during her stay in Malta but doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy despite telling her it was unviable because the foetus still had a heartbeat.

As a result, the woman’s health was put at risk until she was eventually flown out to Spain, where the pregnancy was terminated.

The survey was conducted between 2 and 19 August and 616 respondents opted to reply. Stratified random sampling using age and gender was used to replicate the general population.

For the overall results, the margin of error is estimated at 4.8% for a 95% confidence interval. Results were compared to a similar survey carried out in April 2021.