Anti-abortion groups using 'deception and intimidation' tactics, pro-choice coalition warns

Three pro-choice groups have warned that anti-abortion groups in Malta are spreading misinformation in a bid to prevent women from accessing safe and legal abortions overseas

Anti-abortion groups in Malta were spreading misinformation to prevent women from accessing safe and legal care overseas (File Photo)
Anti-abortion groups in Malta were spreading misinformation to prevent women from accessing safe and legal care overseas (File Photo)

A number of pro-choice activist groups have warned that anti-abortion groups in Malta are spreading misinformation and using deception and intimidation in an attempt to prevent women from accessing safe and legal care overseas.

In a joint statement, Voice for Choice, Abortion Support Network and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service accused anti-abortion groups of impersonating abortion services “in order to provide incorrect information about a woman’s ability to travel to England for an abortion”.

They said these groups were also sharing contact details of “vulnerable women with anti-abortion groups in Ireland,” sending “abusive text messages and visiting women at their home addresses”.

“Women in Malta are already suffering due to the fact that we continue to have a total abortion ban and due to a total lack of publicly available factual, non-biased information,” the groups said.

“Seeking access to abortion services outside Malta is not illegal and they have every right to do so. Impersonating legitimate services so as to con women seeking the right services for them, is unethical and nothing short of despicable,” a spokesperson for Voice for Choice said.

The group said it was concerned that the “methods employed by anti-abortion groups not only cause immense personal distress but that by delaying women’s access to treatment, they may cause women to undergo procedures at a later gestation”.

It said that while abortion is a safe procedure, it is safer when performed earlier in the pregnancy. “Later surgical terminations are also significantly more expensive than earlier procedures using medication.”

The group said it was also concerned that if women are obstructed from travelling overseas, there may be a risk of them committing criminal acts such as buying abortion pills online.

“When we expanded our services to Malta in February, we expected – and got – push back from people in Malta who are against abortion. What we did not expect was to hear from women who had been misled by people within Malta, organisations and individuals who offered to give information about pregnancy options including abortion and instead attempted to scare these women and girls with lies and medical misinformation,” Founder of Abortion Support Network, Mara Clarke said.

Clarke said that one group shared a women’s phone numbers and email addresses with an anti-abortion group in Ireland. “Another person pretended to be an employee from an abortion clinic and told a young woman she needed to delay her procedure by two months, which by the time it would have been too late for her to get an abortion in England.”

She said that in another instance a woman said she would help a woman get an abortion, and then sent her abusive text messages and visited her home trying to “dissuade her from having an abortion.”

British Pregnancy Advisory Service spokesperson, Katherine O’Brien, said, “individuals are entitled to have a personal opposition to abortion. However, it is completely wrong to spread lies and misinformation in order to prevent or delay women from accessing safe, legal healthcare. We would like to stress that these tactics, rather than stopping abortions, will instead force women to have later terminations or risk criminalisation by using pills online.”

She said it was incredibly worrying to hear reports that anti-abortion groups could be breaching women’s confidentiality by visiting their homes. “This could have real and significant consequences for women who are in a controlling or abusive relationship, and those who do not wish their partner or family to know about their pregnancy.”

The group said it wanted to set the “record straight” for anyone in Malta who is considering having an abortion and who wanted unbiased, factual information and advice.

“The British Pregnancy Advisory Service can offer pregnancy options counselling for anyone from Malta who wants information about all their options, including parenting, adoption or abortion.”

It said Abortion Support Network could also offer information on the least expensive method of abortion and travel, financial help towards the cost of travel and procedure, overnight accommodation, and information on the reputable online providers of early medical abortion pills.

“If someone in Malta speaks to an organisation that tells them abortion causes breast cancer, mental health issues, or infertility (all proven false by science); if they are told they need to get a scan in Malta; if they are asked for their home address; if they contact an organisation called The Life Network; if someone offers to come to their house; if someone contacts them from a phone number beginning +353 (for Ireland); they are speaking to an anti-abortion organisation.”