Throughout Europe, women have access to various forms of reproductive care, as guaranteed by legislation and a broad understanding of pro-choice rights in terms of women’s bodies. In Malta, the situation is rather different.
This island exercises a total ban on abortion in all contexts. Any attempt in executing an abortion can result in the imprisonment of the mother for up to 3 years and any medical specialist who involves themselves in the procedure is also risking jail time, as well as a lifelong expulsion from the profession.
Whilst in recent years women’s access to various forms of birth control is becoming more widely accepted on a local level, the question of lifting the ban on abortion is seen as a taboo that is avoided as much as possible. Nonetheless, instances of abortion are still prevalent among Maltese women. Whilst popular belief is that most of these women travel to England to have this procedure done, this is unfortunately far from the truth. Only a small minority of women have the necessary financial resources to travel to England or any other European country with costs including flights, accommodation, living expenses, and the procedure itself.
Therefore, a large number of women resort to unsafe means such as buying abortive pills from the dark web, unaware of their true contents. Some women also use sharp objects to break the amniotic sac inside the womb which could cause life-threatening injuries. It is not unheard of as well for women to introduce toxic chemicals into their bloodstream in the hope of poisoning the baby with the consequence that these women end up poisoning themselves.
So what’s stopping Malta from adopting this “integral part of the right to health”, as the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commission, Nils Muižnieks, put it? There are many answers to this question ranging from morality to politics, but the largest controlling factor in this debate seems to be Malta’s predominant Catholic culture. The philosophy adopted is one of all life being sacred and untouchable.
This poses the question of the way this argument should be developed in order to achieve the outcome of bodily autonomy in the context of abortion. I believe we must remain sensitive and understanding of the longstanding beliefs of people. The course of action must be one that appeals to the empathy of the pro-life group. In respecting a group’s opinion, they are more willing to respect your side and even listen to what you have to say.
To end on a more positive note, however, I do believe that with today’s youths taking a more active role in the advocacy of human rights, political and social beliefs are moving farther away from religious influence, and more towards the realm of interpersonal communication and experience. This will, one should hope, give way for this debate to gain traction within the context of local politics, and will hopefully result in women being granted more choice in family planning and personal health.