Surge in requests for abortion from Malta during COVID-19 pandemic

Abortion Support Network says COVID-19 saw a surge in women requesting assistance to terminate pregnancies

ASN founder Mara Clarke
ASN founder Mara Clarke

87 women in Malta have requested help from the Abortion Support Network (ASN) to terminate their pregnancy in 2020 – surpassing last year’s figure of 75.

The statistics suggest an increased demand in terminations during the COVID-19 pandemic after flights to countries where hospitals offer abortions were shut down.

ASN is an NGO that offers information and contacts for people who wish to explore options on pregnancy.

Founder Mara Clarke told MaltaToday she was confident that over 50% of the women who contacted the network in 2020, ultimately went through with the abortion.

Clarke said the majority who contacted ASN had already decided what they planned to do regarding their pregnancy. “If they’re weighing their options, trying to decide if they should keep the baby or give it up for adoption, they more likely to reach out to a family doctor, a parent or family member, or other groups already in Malta. When they contact us, it’s usually because they need financial support, or they want information on how to access an abortion.”

The COVID-19 shutdown in Malta laid bare the barriers for women to have access to abortion services, with more people reaching out to activists and charities, and seeking medical abortion pills online.

Clarke said that between March and August 2020, 71 women had reached out to ASN for assistance with terminating a pregnancy. Since its launch in Malta, an average of eight women per month made contact with ASN in 2020.

At the height of the pandemic between March and July, when airports were closed and travel was severely limited, 62 women reached out to ASN.

“I think one of the reasons the figures have gone up is because of the pandemic, because before, women who had the means to get on a plane and have an abortion, would just do so – however – now everyone in Malta and subsequently Europe, knows what it feels like to be poor, or a migrant, and not have the means to just get on a plane and have an abortion. It made women collectively understand the struggles of others,” Clarke said.

Clarke said many of those who contacted ASN during the pandemic requested information on purchasing abortion pills. “Many phoned us panicking because the post was slow, and they were worried it wouldn’t arrive in time – that was during the time when postal services had been backed up,” she said.

Figures released by the UK government show that in 2019, 83 Maltese women had an abortion – but it is difficult to get a clear picture of just how many women go aboard every year because countries like Spain, France and Italy do not release similar figures.

Clarke said from the data ASN has, the age range of women contacting the network is between 14 to 46 years.

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