Abortion in Malta: The long journey

Abortion to be allowed when woman’s health is at serious risk” – next week amendments will be tabled in Maltese parliament to make this happen. As a friend of mine remarked, it’s a small step forward, that just shows how far behind we are.

As with many fights for justice I think it is important to know our history. These long-awaited amendments are another marker along the path of struggle for sexual and reproductive health and rights for women.

The basics, as you may know by now are that Malta’s Criminal Code forces people to remain pregnant against their will. Even if they risk death, as the case of Andrea Prudente this summer clearly documented. It’s 1.5-3 years in prison if someone consents to an abortion, or has a medical abortion on their own. This is from law enacted in the 1850s under British colonial rule.

Incomplete Malta SRHR & Abortion Timeline

In reverse chronological order. Did I miss something pivotal? Let me know!

Politics: In November 2022, Prime Minister Robert Abela speaks about legal amendments that will be proposed in Malta to allow abortions when a woman’s health is in serious risk. Deputy PM Chris Fearne announced that they will be tabled in Parliament the 3rd week of November.

Case: In September 2022, Andrea Prudente takes Malta to court over human rights impact of abortion ban.

Politics: On 30th June 2022 Deputy Prime Minister, and Health Minister Chris Fearne orders a review of the law on abortion after American tourist Andrea Prudent was denied this life-saving procedure.

Pro-Choice: On 27th June 2022, 135 doctors submitted a judicial protest to ask for a review of Malta’s abortion ban.

Case: In mid-June 2022, Andrea Prudente’s story hits the news. She is denied a request to terminate her non-viable pregnancy and has to travel to Spain to receive this procedure.

Pro-Choice: On 15th June 2022 188 people filed a judicial protest for the state’s breach of the fundamental human rights of those who can get pregnant.

Politics: In March 2022, ADPD and Volt Malta are the first political parties to mention abortion in their manifestos for the General Election. Both parties field publicly pro-choice candidates.

Politics: In May 2021, independent MP Marlene Farrugia tables a historic bill to Decriminalise Abortion in Malta. Activists gathered outside the parliament in Valletta to support. via: Voice for Choice.

Case: In September 2020, Maltese court imposed a warrant on a pregnant victim of domestic violence. Impeding her from leaving Malta. via: Women’s Rights Foundation.

Pro-Choice: On 25th September 2019, a pro-choice rally was held in Malta for the International Day for Safe Abortion. That was a historical moment in our timeline to abortion.

Pro-Choice: In May 2019 Doctors for Choice Malta is launched. They advocate for safe, accessible, comprehensive, evidence-based reproductive healthcare in Malta.

Pro-Choice: In March 2019, Voice for Choice Malta, a broad coalition of NGOs is launched. They push for laws to ensure proper abortion care in Malta in line with Human Rights standards. The coalition includes Women’s Rights Foundation, Moviment Graffitti, and aditus foundation amongst others.

Politics: In the campaign for the Members of the European Parliament in 2019 abortion becomes a big talking point and here.

Pro-Choice: On Valentine’s Day in February 2019 Abortion Support Network announce that they will open their services to Malta. “Maltese women can now seek funded consultation and travel for safe abortion in other countries“.

Pro-Choice: On International Women’s Day in 2018 the Women’s Rights Foundation calls for access to safe, legal abortion in the presentation of a position paper.

SRHR: In 2016, public debate on the Morning After Pill is started, it had surfaced before. The campaign page on Facebook was launched in June. 102 women file a judicial protest to demand MAP. It is led by the Women’s Rights Foundation. AD (Green Party), PULSE (university student org), Moviment Graffitti, Labour Party, Malta Confederation for Women’s Organisations all come out in favour of the proposal. Bishops and the National Council of Women are against it. In October of that year, 200 people turn up at a march for the Emergency Contraceptive Pill, and an online petition gathers 1.664 signatures. This ends up being a pivotal victory for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Malta.

Stats: In 2016, Dr Gomperts says that Women on Waves receive 65 e-mails a year from Maltese women asking for assistance.

Pro-Choice: In 2015, a facebook page called “Pro-Choice Malta” is started. All of the members who run the page are anonymous and never give their names to the press.

Pro-life: In 2015, 300 people march for the status quo, “a march for life”. They march against abortion despite the fact that no political party at the time is in favour of it, and there is no organised pro-choice movement.

Case: In 2014 Marion Mifsud Mora, on holiday in Malta, had to be evacuated to Paris. Malta’s hospital was unable to offer the urgent care she needed when her 17 weeks pregnancy became unviable.

Case: In 2014 a Tunisian woman was handed a suspended jail term after admitting to having committed an abortion. Her friend who procured the pills was also handed a suspended sentence. The medical report however showed that the woman had no foetus. Therefore the case was appealed.

Opinion: In 2010, Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote in the Malta Independent “the main purpose of Malta’s ban on abortion is now purely symbolic: ‘this is what we stand for’. But there is a secondary purpose: to stop poor people and women who are financially dependent on uncooperative third parties, from having one. Nothing can be done about the Maltese women with access to a few hundred euros. They can get an abortion whenever they like.” The topic, as I remember from being on campus at the University of Malta started to be discussed more openly, a frequent activist who would speak fervently in support of abortion rights, at a time when hardly anyone else was public, was Ramon Casha, a member of the Malta Humanists Association. The movement misses him.

Stats: In 2010, 51 women used a Maltese address to access abortion through the NHS in the UK. 78 in 2009, 38 in 2008.

Activism: In 2007, Dr Gomperts from Women on Waves visited Malta. She said an estimated 300 Maltese women sought abortion per year.

Health: In 2006, the Bioethics committee blocked the morning-after pill, emergency contraception, on the grounds that it could cause an abortion.

Politics: In 2005 the PN government proposed that the law prohibiting abortion in Malta should be entrenched in the Constitution, it did not happen.

Law: Up to 2005 a woman in Malta could not say ‘no’ to sex with her husband. Marriage equated to automatic consent. (via Moviment Graffitti)

EU: In 2004 during EU accession talks Malta negotiates a clause which ensured that, should Malta enter the EU, no legislation on abortion can be enforced in the member state. Health is recognised as a member state competence.

Case: In 2003, a Russian woman living in Malta who sought an abortion outside Malta was taken into police custody to prevent her from leaving the country after her male companion reported to the police that she was going to have an abortion in Russia. Therefore limiting her freedom of movement.

Pro-Choice: In 1995 Moviment Graffitti are the first organisation in Malta to come out as pro-choice.

Stats: From 1981-1986 an average of 46 people a year use a Maltese address when accessing abortion on NHS in the UK. From 1991-2015, an average of 54 people a year use a Maltese address when accessing abortion on the NHS in the UK.

Law: In 1981 a clause permitting abortion to save a women’s life was removed from the criminal code. In 1974 when Malta became a Republic an existing ban on advertising contraceptives was lifted. A year later, a ban on importing contraceptives was repealed.

In 1850, this all started.

I did this work for this blog some time back, collecting most of this timeline on Twitter, https://twitter.com/mina_tolu/status/1176928324687474689, I am not sure how long that will last… so it’s moved here.

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