Malta is the only EU country to have an outright ban abortion with no exceptions made if the woman’s health or life are in danger. The strict laws prohibit abortion in all circumstances (rape, incest, severe foetal malformation) which makes it one of the most restrictive and strict countries in the world regarding anti-abortion laws.
The penalties for those who break the law can be up to three years in prison for women and their helpers, four years for doctors. The criminal code states clearly that:
“(1) Whosoever, by any food, drink, medicine, or by violence, or by any other means whatsoever, shall cause the miscarriage of any woman with child, whether the woman be consenting or not, shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term from 18 months to three years.”
“(2) The same punishment shall be awarded against any woman who shall procure her own miscarriage, or who shall have consented to the use of the means by which the miscarriage is procured. »
In practice, there are no women imprisoned in Malta for abortion, but the legal pressure causes a terrible guilt and leaves women seeking abortions in a dangerous state of insecurity.
While it is legal for women to travel outside of Malta to seek an abortion, if they suffer any complications when they arrive back home they often fear getting medical help.
And this is not a solution anyhow. There are many that cannot travel leaving them with no other option but to order abortion pills to induce an abortion at home, with no support from medics.
Reproductive rights movement
Over the last few years voices demanding change have been getting louder. Activists, doctors, womens’ rights advocates have been gathering and protesting in the hope of changing these laws, despite significant backlash.
On 28 September 2019, participants gathered to call for the decriminalization of abortion and a reform of the laws on reproduction.
In May 2022 Dr Isabel Stabile demonstrated by herself in the traffic in Marsa against Malta’s abortion laws and was attacked. However, she said she would not be deterred from protesting after this event and that she and other abortion rights advocates would continue to fight for the right of people to access safe abortion.
On Wednesday 15 June women’s’ rights groups, including the Women’s Rights Foundation, gathered outside the courthouse to demand an end to the criminalisation of abortion in Malta.
During this demonstration a petition was submitted with the aim of removing the ban on abortion. This manifestation took place a few days before a sad and polemical event that reignited the debate and activist actions.
While on holiday in Malta with her partner, Andrea Prudente, a 38-year-old American woman, had her waters break prematurely. Although the pregnancy was not viable and her health was at risk, she was told the doctors would only perform an abortion, if she was in imminent danger of dying. Andrea had to travel to Spain to have the operation. In Malta this event reignited fundamental demands for abortion rights and pushed activists to demonstrate in Valletta
On 27 June, 135 Maltese doctors filed a legal appeal against the abortion ban. The appeal against the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health calls for the removal of the article from the criminal Code punishing doctors who perform abortions with 4 years imprisonment and a lifetime ban from practicing.
Gynaecologists Isabel Stabile filed the protest on behalf of the 135 doctors calling for a review of Malta’s laws.
Current political context
On 15 February 2022 Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, published a report on her visit to Malta in October 2021. The report clearly states that women’s rights in Malta must be strengthened by decriminalizing abortion and provide women a legal and safe access to abortion. She urged Maltese authorities “to develop a comprehensive regulation of women’s access to legal and safe abortion.’’
In reply the government said that abortion isn’t an intrinsic right.
Last May, a bill opening up the right to abortion was rejected by the government. It was the very first legislative proposal to decriminalize abortion in Malta which was carried by the independent MP Marlene Farrugia. While the Nationalist Party remained completely opposed to abortion, the Labour Party said it would allow a debate on the issue.
After the controversy concerning the refusal to allow Prudente to abort even though her life was in danger, the Maltese government announced on 30 June a review of the implementation of the country’s abortion ban. However, Chris Fearne, the Maltese Minister for Health, did not mention any changing on abortion’s law.
In this relentless political environment one has to ask how can the general public take a stand against the current law and push for change?