Malta’s blanket ban on abortion aims to save lives – those of the unborn. But while attempting to save the lives of those that haven’t made it to earth yet, it puts at risk the lives and freedoms of living, breathing women.
Dear Decision Makers is a publication that tells the stories of almost 50 women and their abortions. And with women’s lives put at risk while some are forced to give birth, Malta’s law does more damage than it saves lives.
Because women are deprived of their freedom to choose what to do with their bodies and lives, and because those who need or want an abortion will do anything in their power to get one – whether the law allows it or not.
With pregnancy severely impacting a woman’s life, besides the prospects of having a child in the near future, many women who shared their abortion tales suffered severe mental health struggles.
Nearly half of the women, 47%, had pregnancy-related suicidal thoughts. 28% of the women reported that the blanket ban had severely impacted their mental health.
These are the stories of four women who had suicidal thoughts or ideations throughout their pregnancies. They didn’t only save their own life. They also saved the life of a child that was unwanted, who would grow up in an unstable environment.
“If I don’t miscarry by four months, I will jump and kill myself”
When Jill* was 16 years old, she was raped by someone who knew she was a virgin. “It was almost like a challenge for him to ‘conquer me’.”
She wasn’t on any kind of contraceptive protection, because as a 16-year-old virgin, there was no need to.
The rapist told her not to go to the hospital or the police. “He threatened me, saying if I didn’t leave with him there and then, he would do something worse – which to my naïve and shocked mind meant he would kill me.”
He put a knife to her throat and raped her again. “This was during my O-levels. I left the house only to go to my exams, with my mum driving and picking me up. No one knew what was going on.”
Shortly after finishing her exams, Jill realised she was pregnant. “The shock of that realisation is something I can still remember. The world for me had ended. I was pregnant with a baby after being raped.”
She would have to give up her education and her future.
“No one knew. I kept it that way. I tried every myth in the book to miscarry, and nothing worked.”
So she proceeded to take more drastic measures. “I started walking to a suicide hotspot every single day, and I even gave myself a deadline: “If I don’t miscarry by four months, I will jump and kill myself.” Still, no one knew.”
One morning, the young girl started getting very bad stomach aches. “I didn’t know what they were until I went to the bathroom and miscarried, right there in the toilet. It looked like nothing more than a clump. I flushed the toilet and walked out.”
She was met with an overwhelming sense of relief. “I realised I had my life back. I didn’t go for postnatal checks, I still didn’t confide in anyone, but I was happy again. Suicide was no longer an option I contemplated.”
With the morning-after pill not being available at the time and no financial means to go abroad, Jill had no options.
“If I had, believe me, I would have left in a heartbeat. My experience of rape was traumatic enough; having to bear a child through that was too much to handle.”
Only years later she understands how dangerous the situation was. “I should have been going for regular medical check-ups, but back then I wasn’t in the mental state to think about things rationally.”
“It took me two years of therapy to get over the rape trauma, but through it all, losing the baby was a huge relief, and I have never had regrets or guilty feelings about it.”
Though Jill believes abortion should be heavily regulated, she thinks it needs to be legalised so it can be an option for whoever needs it.
“If you don’t agree with abortion, it’s simple: don’t have one. But don’t impose your opinions on others, because you have no idea what they’re going through.”
“The two-week wait was filled with anxiety and suicidal thoughts”
Claire never thought it would happen to her. She had an IUD inserted, a very reliable form of contraception that is more than 99% effective.
There had been no signs that the contraception had failed, and a previous visit to a gynaecologist had shown that the IUD was in position. Still, something went wrong.
“I knew I was pregnant, but because of stress, anxiety and denial, I put off taking a test for a week.”
After her partner insisted, she had a variety of tests done and found out that she was 6-7 weeks pregnant.
“I was devastated, because I had thought that maybe, just maybe, it was a pregnancy scare. I was instantly panicked because: 1) there was a risk of an ectopic pregnancy; 2) this was definitely not a good time to have a baby; 3) I was angry. The contraceptive should have worked!”
“I was not “sleeping around”, as some might put it. I had been with my partner for more than nine years, and my last visit to the gynaecologist had shown that my IUD was working and in place.”
The next few days were intense. “I went from moments of extreme anxiety to moments of total denial.”
“I had never wanted children, and in fact always wanted a permanent form of contraception (female sterilisation), which, regrettably, is not provided in Malta to women who have not had children and are in their 20s. If this were a viable option in Malta, I would not have been in this situation at all.”
“In the days that followed, I thought about everything: the future baby’s life, my life, my relationship, making it work, how I would tell my employer, how it would affect my career, how I would cope financially, how my family would react, having no place of my own… I thought about everything, and the more I thought the more I knew this wasn’t what I wanted for this child and wasn’t what I wanted for myself.”
She found herself in a position she wasn’t supposed to be in, and her decision was not made lightly. But after doing her research and realising that the safest option, going abroad, was not a possibility due to COVID-19, Claire was truly panicking.
Luckily she knew about Doctors for Choice, who directed her to contact the Abortion Support Network, and she was helped to order pills for home abortions.
“Pills would not have been my first choice, but circumstances did not allow for other alternatives. I would have liked to have had the procedure done in a clinic under medical supervision, rather than at home, alone.”
“The two weeks’ wait was very disheartening; filled with anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I was so worried that the pills would not arrive in time. I had a suicidal thought at least once or twice a day, thinking of ways it could be done. I was in panic mode all the way through.”
Two weeks later, to Claire’s relief, the pills arrived.
“Aside from the physical pain in the initial hours of taking them, it mostly felt like a very heavy period. I didn’t regret it and I didn’t feel “evil”. I bled heavily for roughly four days and moderately for around two weeks, but was almost pain-free after the first week. I knew I had made the right decision.”
But Claire is aware she was lucky that her pills arrived on time. “Many of those without access to abortion services will either remain pregnant and/or resort to more unsafe methods—something I was going to resort to.”
“I cannot imagine what it would be like to be in the situation of those women who do not want to carry on with the pregnancy but are forced to keep going because they can’t access these safe services. Access to medication should be available for all.”
“I cannot understand why Malta still has such strict laws on abortion, when so many women every year continue to seek out alternative means of having them, some less safe than others. That being said, I cannot thank those who supported me enough!”
“I tried to miscarry by drinking a lot, taking drugs, and punching myself in the uterus”
Mary has always practiced safe sex. Her parents were too young to properly raise her, resulting in her difficult childhood, and the last thing she wanted was to continue that cycle.
“As a result of a traumatic upbringing and my own emotionally sensitive nature, I struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, and the suicidal inclinations that come along with it.”
She became pregnant at 23. “The man I was dating did not bother to tell me there had been an accident with the condom until after I told him I was pregnant. What else was I supposed to have done to avoid this? Even if he had been a decent human being and told me, the morning after pill was not even available in Malta at the time.”
Though she wasn’t in favour of abortion at the time, she knew she would bring the child into an unstable environment. “I hadn’t even decided what I wanted to study yet, I was earning little more than minimum wage, and I had no support from my family. The government welfare was not sufficient either.”
“This also had serious implications for my already poor mental health, and the suicidal thoughts slowly started. I knew that I wouldn’t have made a good mother at the time; I was emotionally unstable, and I regularly lashed out at people as a result of my illness.”
After consulting her family and receiving no support, the first thing Mary did was try to miscarry by drinking a lot, taking class A drugs, and punching herself in the uterus whenever she had the chance. “This did not work. It was a horrible experience.”
She decided to use all of her savings to terminate that which she had tried to avoid.
“I flew to the UK, alone, as I had already lived there in the past and had an NHS number. I made jokes in the clinic waiting room with the staff, to hide how much agony I was in; I feel bad for the other women in that room to this day, as it must have seemed insensitive and they were suffering too. You could see it in everyone’s eyes—we all knew how serious this was.”
Mary had the procedure done at 8 weeks. She requested to be put under anaesthesia, and when she woke up she cried for hours. “I cried out of relief that I had just saved two lives – mine and that of the potential child, who would have suffered terribly being raised or abandoned by me at the time – and because I have always wanted to have children. I felt morally destroyed.”
“It was heart-breaking. My insides felt like I was a barrel that had just been scraped clean. I fell into a depression that lasted a full year, and I could not speak to anyone about it due to the stigma surrounding abortion in Malta. I had to suffer alone. Still, I knew without a doubt that I had done the right thing, and vowed to be prepared should it ever happen again.”
Over the next few years, she poured all of her energy into studying and getting help for her mental illness. “I am now mostly in control of my BPD symptoms and consider myself to be as mentally healthy as any other person, sometimes even more so due to everything I have passed through. I also completed my studies and tripled my income.”
Now, at almost 28 years old, Mary is very much ready for, and looking forward to, having children. “I know I can provide for all of their needs even if their father walks out, and I know I am capable of raising them to be the best versions of themselves, because that is what I did for myself.”
“But what would have happened if I had not had any savings? If I hadn’t been able to travel to the UK? Would I be dead? Would I have robbed the children I am ready to have now of the future they could have had?”
“I still feel deep sadness over this experience, and every year on the anniversary of the procedure, I take time to grieve the loss of the child I never had, and I try to honour the sacrifice we both made.”
“I saved a life: my own.”
During the travel ban, Odette had a Pills-by-Post abortion through Women on Web (WoW).
“The illegality of it in Malta and public hurtful portrayal of abortion made me feel like I was a murderer.”
“Once I had gone through it, I realised I was not a murderer, I was in fact a hero who had saved a life: my own.”
“Without the support of organisations like WoW, I would be just another suicide statistic.”
Granting women access to safe abortions saves more than just lives. It saves the rights, freedoms and well-being of women who know what is best for them and their potential child.
Because abortion isn’t a simple yes-or-no question. There are instances of rape, trauma, illnesses and situations beyond women’s control that might call for the need for abortion.
Every woman who had an abortion has her own story and her own reasons. In a culture where stigma is the norm, these women are not only forced to hide their experiences but also the trauma they went through.
We need to be there for women. We need to provide them with health care. We need to listen to their stories. Because we can not voice the rights of the unborn while women’s voices are being shut down.
Do you think women in Malta should have safe access to abortion?