MALTA – Dear Decision-makers: A Campaign for Reproductive Rights

Top image: Emily Galea and Laura Paris, editors of Dear Decision-makers

The aim of this campaign, supported by Young Progressive Beings. and Break the Taboo Malta, is to bring to light the extent of the damage caused by the criminalisation and complete ban on abortion in Malta. We are providing a safe platform for women and other members of the general public to share their story and collectively express the harm, fear and unnecessary trauma that the current abortion laws have caused them. We also invite healthcare professionals to join this campaign and recount their experiences. Through these collective voices, we would like to convey to policymakers and the Maltese public that access to safe abortion is essential.

They have been collecting stories from two groups of individuals:
(1) Individuals who feel that they have been affected or harmed in any way by Malta’s blanket ban on abortion.
(2) Healthcare professionals who feel that they were unable to provide their patients with optimal care, information or options.

This is one of the 50 stories featured: “Maria spent the last months of her pregnancy knowing the fetus she carried inside of her had an inverted heart and a hernia that had spread to its stomach.
Her obstetrician had told her the body would probably self-abort and there was nothing they could do in the meantime. “I kept growing bigger and bigger, and people kept congratulating me. I worked in a showroom, meeting people every single day, and they kept asking me how far along I was, and whether I was expecting a boy or a girl. Strangers would stop me in the street, touch my belly and ask questions like: when are you due?” Maria recalled. But she knew her baby would die the minute it was born, if not before. “They made me pass through this immense physical and psychological trauma. All because some men in power made this choice for me: that there should be no termination. No matter the circumstances. Not even if the baby has absolutely no chance of surviving outside of the womb. I was forced to be a walking grave.” Her daughter lived for only 50 minutes following a C-section delivery. It took Maria four years to mentally recover, but 15 years on, she is still facing trauma and repercussions. She has since gone through a second C-section, meaning she cannot have any more children.”

The stories were submitted to the campaign, which is being supported by Break the Taboo Malta, by women of various ages. Some were unable to access safe abortions, while others who had the financial means and support systems said they still suffered the stigma. Covid-19 made their situation even more challenging due to travel restrictions, a rise in domestic violence and a decrease in the availability of contraceptives.

Earlier this year independent MP Marlene Farrugia tabled a private members’ bill proposing decriminalisation of abortion but fellow MPs shot it down.

Paris and Galea hope the first-hand accounts will help lawmakers understand the gravity of their actions, or lack of. “When you read their stories, do not read them in isolation of their socially and legally constructed predicament. These stories, undoubtedly, are a direct consequence of Malta’s blanket ban on abortion. They are a result of your complacency and complicity. In this country, the human right to bodily autonomy is lost the moment a person becomes pregnant. Despite being a living, fully actualised human being, it is not uncommon for such individuals to be treated as lesser than their own pregnancies,” they write.

“You don’t have to love abortion. You can dislike it. Maybe it even makes you sad. The way you view abortion is up to you. If you don’t like abortion, you can advocate for proper sex education, access to birth control and other things that have been shown to lower unplanned pregnancies. You don’t have to like abortion. But what you can’t do is disrespect somebody for having an abortion. You can’t take that choice away from women because you don’t like it. Your emotions are not somebody else’s responsibility. Your emotions aren’t more important than anyone else’s bodily autonomy. You don’t have to like abortion, but you have to respect other people’s rights and that includes the right to safe, accessible abortion.”

SOURCE: Times of Malta, by Sarah Carabott, 9 August 2021 + Photo by James Bianchi ; ;