658 women completed medical abortion, more than half already had children

​More than half of women in Malta who completed a medical abortion after buying pills online already had children, research shows

More than half of women in Malta who completed a medical abortion after buying pills online already had children, research shows.

The findings show that 53% of the 658 women who had a medical abortion between 2017 and 2021, had children and a quarter had two or more children.

The research focussed on anonymised data provided by just one online telemedicine provider, Women on Web. It was carried out by Andrea Dibben, Isabel Stabile, Rebecca Gomperts and James Kohout and published on BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, an international journal.

The number of women who had a medical abortion could be higher since there are other reputable online telemedicine providers not included in the study.

During the five-year period, 1,090 pregnant people requested at-home medical abortion from Women on Web but around 40% cancelled because they chose to continue the pregnancy, had a miscarriage or decided to travel overseas for an abortion.

Abortion is illegal in Malta, making it the only EU member state with an outright ban. Parliament is currently discussing the introduction of two limited exceptions that would allow doctors to terminate a pregnancy if the woman’s life or health is in danger.

Women who seek an abortion have to travel abroad to get a surgical abortion, or procure abortive pills online and self-medicate with the threat of criminal action hanging on their head.

The study shows that the pills Mifepristone and misoprostol were shipped to 658 women. More than 90% reached out to Women on Web at less than seven weeks’ gestation.

The analysis found that among those completing a medical abortion, 63% did not use contraception, and in 30% of cases there was contraception failure.

Just over half (53.3%) were aged between 25 and 34, nearly a quarter (22%) were women 35 years and over, and another quarter (24.3%) were under 25.

The main reason given for having a medical abortion was ‘not being able to have a child at this point in their life’ and ‘no money to raise a child, 69% and 34% respectively.

“Contrary to the prevailing stereotype that most women who access abortion are young and promiscuous, most women seeking abortion through telemedicine in Malta were in their late 20s or early 30s and were already mothers, and their main reason for accessing abortion was that they felt their family was complete, or they could not cope with another child,” the researchers said.

They also noted that lack of use of contraception rather than contraception failure was the main reason why women within the older cohorts became pregnant.

“This study highlights the need for better family planning services and the promotion of more reliable methods of contraception,” they added.

The study showed a steady yearly increase in abortive medicine shipped to Maltese recipients with a marked hike during the pandemic years 2020 and 2021 when travel restrictions prevented people from going abroad.