The right to impart and receive information on abortion...

Why an abortion information service is protected by the human rights convention. MaltaToday takes a quick look at the issue at stake

What is Abortion Support Network?

It is an organisation that provides information on abortion services and travel arrangements to reach clinics in several EU countries. In some cases, it also financially assists women who want to get an abortion.

Has it opened a clinic in Malta?

No. What ASN has done is extend its service to Maltese people through its website, email and helpline.

Why Malta?

Abortion is illegal in Malta with no exception. It is the only country in Europe where abortion is completely against the law. ASN wants to provide information on the least expensive method of abortion and travel to England, Netherlands and Spain. It also wants to provide confidential telephone medical consultation or pregnancy options counselling sessions provided by British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

If abortion is illegal in Malta, aren’t ASN breaking the law?

No. ASN does not carry out abortions and most definitely will not be carrying out any abortions in Malta. They are simply offering an information service and helping women travel to abortion clinics in European countries where the practice is legal.

Doesn’t ASN’s information service qualify as aiding and abetting abortion, making it illegal?

While some have argued that ASN’s actions are criminal in nature, freedom of expression as outlined in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights guarantees any person’s right to not only impart but also receive information. Malta is a party to the convention and this right is sanctioned in the Constitution. ASN has a right to disseminate information. But Maltese women also have a right to receive information about abortion services, more so when these are legal in other countries that are party to the human rights convention.

Is there a precedent?

There is a landmark decision by the European Court of Human Rights from 1992, involving two counselling clinics in Ireland that offered advice on abortion options in the UK. One of the clinics also made travel arrangements for their clients.

Abortion was illegal in Ireland at the time. The Irish Supreme court had issued an injunction on the clinics, deeming their information service as being in breach of Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion. The clinics – Open Door and Dublin Well Woman – took the matter to the ECHR in Strasbourg, claiming that the order breached their right to impart information as outlined in Article 10. Clients of the clinics also joined the case, insisting their right to receive information was breached. The clinics and the patients won the case.

What did the ECHR rule?

The court concluded that the restraint imposed on the applicants from receiving or imparting information was disproportionate and breached their freedom of expression.

How does this apply to Malta?

Malta is a party to the human rights convention and any decision by the Strasbourg court has a bearing on how Maltese courts interpret the law domestically. Furthermore, there is no law criminalising the dissemination of information on abortion.

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