Demand for abortion pills doubles during pandemic

Abortion pills demand doubles since 2020 COVID-19 pandemic

Abortion pill (File photo)
Abortion pill (File photo)

The demand for abortion pills has doubled over the last two years due to travel restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, pro-choice doctors said in data shared with MaltaToday. 

International online abortion service Women on Web provided the data to Doctors for Choice representative Prof. Isabel Stabile and Women’s Rights Foundation’s Andrea Dibben, who revealed that over the last five years, 632 abortion pills were shipped to Malta.

In 2021 alone, 248 pills were shipped to Malta, compared to 173 in 2020.

The constituency with the highest number of purchases in 2021 is the 10th district – Gzira, Naxxar, Bahar ic-Caghaq, Pembroke, St Julian’s, Paceville and Sliema with 34, followed by the 12th district, which consists of Mellieha, part of Naxxar, with 30 pills in 2021. 

The previous year, 173 pills were shipped to Malta, with the 12th district having the highest number of purchases with 34, followed by the 9th district, consisting of Gharhur, Msida, Swatar, San Gwann, Kappara, Swieqi, Madliena and Ta’ Xbiex with 28.

“The pandemic has most certainly shifted women’s options when it comes to abortion. Travelling to get an abortion wasn’t easy pre-pandemic, with childcare, time off work, and not to mention the cost of the abortion itself. For many women, the cost is insurmountable. The pandemic has only worsened this,” Prof. Stabile said. 

In 2020, the UK-based charity Abortion Support Network had raised the alarm about a surge in requests for abortion from Malta during the pandemic.

Prof. Stabile highlighted that the data comes from only one provider, Women on Web, and while it is one of the most prominent of sources, it was not the only one: Women Help Women, a similar charity, would not release their data.

“So, in reality, the number is greater than 632,” Prof. Stabile said. “This is the case for all our data – we know that on average, 50 women travel to the UK each year to have an abortion because they release the data. However, we have no idea how many women travel to other European countries. Politicians need to wake up and realise that people in their constituencies are having abortions.”

Prof. Stabile also pointed out that over the last five years, 30 abortion pills were shipped to Gozo. “This is not an insignificant number, and it’s not even the lowest number. So, despite the argument that Gozo ‘is conservative’, there are still people who are seeking abortions,” she said. 

Abortion is illegal in Malta even if pregnancy threatens a woman’s life or wellbeing. This state of affairs makes Malta a jurisdiction with the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world that can lead to imprisonment of the woman and her doctor or anyone assisting in the termination of a pregnancy.

Women on Web is an international online abortion service that provides safe, accessible and affordable online abortion care to women and people around the world.

Explaining the process, Prof. Stabile said that a person would first make a request to Women on Web by filling in a consultation form. The data is then forwarded to a doctor, and then that request is either approved on denied.

Prof. Stabile said the data was compiled using approved requests which make up around 60% of all requests. The doctor then writes a perception, and then the pill is dispatched by a partner organisation. The purchaser is then helped in real-time through email by trained staff. 

As a form of payment, purchasers are asked to donate. However, if the person states they cannot pay, the donation is either reduced or waivered altogether. 

Compiling the data 

Prof. Stabile said that it was important to note that the data was acquired through Women on Web indefinably – meaning there is no way of knowing who the women who purchased the pills were, and with the purchaser’s consent. 

She also explained that for towns that shared constituencies, for example, Naxxar, which is split over districts 10 and 12, purchasers’ addresses were not disclosed, and there was no way of knowing whether it was one district or another. In those cases, the data was determined by the district that held the town’s majority.