Malta remains the only country in the EU with a full ban on abortion, regardless of the circumstances. And that puts women in nasty situations.
The recently launched Dear Decision Makers publication tells the stories of about 50 women who had abortions in Malta.
In certain cases, women have to live with the trauma of being raped. The following women went through the horrors of being raped, to then find out they were pregnant with their rapist’s child.
One of them lost her virginity to rape. Another one was spiked and raped by her boss. The last woman doesn’t know, till the day of today, who caused her pregnancy, as she was blackout drunk.
These women didn’t only have to suffer through their rape experience – they also had to deal with the consequences by themselves.
Besides having to deal with the trauma of rape, having to travel abroad by themselves or taking a cocktail of pills, they also need to carry the weight of the possibility of being sent to prison for undertaking the procedure.
As abortion remains a highly stigmatised issue in Malta, many women carry their secret to the grave. Women should be protected, not harmed, by their country’s laws.
The following stories are of real women who suffered because of Malta.
“At 17 years old, I lost my virginity to rape”
Nicole* lost her virginity to rape at the age of 17. She dedicated her story to a gynaecologist’s claim that “women don’t get pregnant from rape” and that they “report rape for insurance purposes”.
Nicole was under the impression that her boyfriend’s mum would be home when she went to help him doing his homework. When she got there and found out it was just the two of them, she was too shy to take a stand and leave. “This was someone I should be able to trust, right?”
Soon enough, studying turned into kissing – and more. “His desire quickly took over and no matter how much I tried to push him off, he pulled down my pants and forcefully penetrated me. It hurt a hell of a lot, but I couldn’t get out from under him.”
“He was too heavy and strong, and I also felt like I deserved this “punishment” for leading him on. Once the deed was done, he was more concerned that the bloodstain was going to give him away than he was about me. I couldn’t stop the bleeding.”
“I suffered from vaginismus for a long time after that. Because I didn’t want to get pregnant, I made sure to under-eat and over exercise, so I wouldn’t ovulate – or so I thought.”
Then, a pregnancy test returned positive. After testing several times, she went out on her bicycle, hoping the bumpy ride would help her miscarry. “I binged on alcohol and swallowed some painkillers. This was the pre-internet information age… I couldn’t look up this stuff.”
“I just did what I thought would remove the cells from my body before they became a baby.”
She thought she couldn’t go to a gynaecologist without her parents because she was underage. But as her cramps turned more horrifying, she called a friend who helped her go to the Floriana clinic. Those heavy cramps came with a loss of blood.
Because she was afraid that he’d come after her if she made a report, as well as the repercussions at home, she never spoke to anyone about the rape. “I believed I’d be told I had been stupid, that I’d led him on, that he’d badmouth me – even worse, that I’d become a laughing stock.”
“I was 17, reserved, shy, and brainwashed into thinking that virginity was to be prized. I just wanted to leave it all behind.”
“Due to desperation and fear, I took enough drugs to have a miscarriage”
When Sophie* was 23 years old, her boss spiked her drink during a late meeting. He had been hitting on her since week three, and she couldn’t leave the job, as she was “broke, vulnerable, and with minimal support at home.”
Since that evening, it took her 12 weeks to understand what had happened. “Intuition and persistent nightmares pushed me to get a pregnancy test. I immediately understood who was responsible for my pregnancy, as I hadn’t been sexually active for a while.”
When she first approached him, he denied it. But Sophie realised what had happened, and she was not taking no for an answer. When he finally gave in, he offered to pay for half of the abortion.
Sophie got support from a close friend in the UK, who set her up with someone in Malta who guided her through the process.
“Due to desperation and fear, I took enough drugs that I was told I would have a miscarriage within two weeks.”
“I felt both lucky and angry. I’m sure these emotions will be with me for a long time, especially as I never spoke up about what happened. He never asked either, obviously.”
“To this day, I don’t know who the man I had sex with was”
Leanne* from Marsaxlokk lost her virginity while she was blackout drunk. “To this day, I don’t know who the man that I had sex with was. I don’t know if it was consensual or not.”
Growing up in a Catholic Maltese family, she never heard her parents use the word “sex”. “Never, ever. Not even to explain gender. If we were filling in a form and there was the word “sex”, their facial expressions would change.”
But in her twenties, Leanne started realising that the opposite sex was interested in her. “It made me feel intrigued. I felt happy, and I made good friends who liked my company. I also became aware that when I drank alcohol, I did not feel shy.”
Around the age of 23, she hadn’t been in any relationships, and she had never felt comfortable enough to have sex with anyone. “Most of all I was worried that I would feel pain. I am a person who cannot stand pain; I am afraid of blood and was also afraid to have sex. I thought it was painful for women.”
One day, a friend of Leanne’s rented a farmhouse in Gozo for her birthday, so Leanne lied to her parents and said she was going to Gozo with a Catholic group for a prayer week.
They went to Gozo with around 10 people, and though Leanne didn’t know everyone, there were a couple of cute guys.
“My friend encouraged me to talk to them and make a move. She knew how shy I was, and that I had never had sex. She was not pushing me to do anything I didn’t feel comfortable with; she just wanted me to have fun, enjoy myself, and feel comfortable.”
They had a great time swimming, playing games, cooking and drinking. “We drank so much that one night I blacked out, and didn’t remember a thing the next day.”
“I didn’t feel sick or dizzy, not even the slightest headache. But when I woke up, I found myself half-naked in bed, and I stank of alcohol and sweat. I shrugged it off, thinking I must have felt hot during the night and took off my clothes in my sleep.”
On her way to the bathroom, she noticed some blood in her pants. “I thought my period was due.”
After that week, Leanne’s life turned back to normal. A couple of weeks later, she started to feel bloated and had a heavy bust. “I started noticing that my breasts felt different—my nipples were more sensitive. I felt tired too.”
At some point, her boss told her to go home and rest as she looked unusually pale. Back home, she went to the bathroom and noticed a “strange sort of discharge”.
Eventually, she decided to go to a gynaecologist. After thoroughly checking her, he told her everything was fine. Until he did an internal ultrasound scan.
“He prepared the machine, and I closed my eyes instantly. This moment felt never-ending. The doctor removed the device from my body, picked up a different device, and checked me again. I could see that his facial expression had changed, he looked a bit tense.”
“Then he said, ‘There is nothing wrong; your body is fine. But I have to let you know that you are pregnant’.”
“How?” Leanne asked. “I didn’t know what was happening, but I instantly thought about Gozo – that was the only thing I had done differently in the last couple of weeks!” she thought.
“The gynaecologist told me, “You cannot do anything. In nine months, you will have a baby. You have to make another appointment and I will then let you know when the due date is.”
She spent that night at her friend’s house, trying to make sense of what had happened. “I didn’t even know who the father was. We concluded that it must have happened in Gozo on the night I got drunk and woke up with no recollection of anything.”
Leanne wanted to figure out how to get rid of it, and above all, not having her family find out. “My only option was getting an abortion. But how? Where? When?”
Fortunately, her friend knew someone who had an abortion in the UK, and gave Leanne the gynaecologists’ details. She told him she was determined to do it, but that she didn’t want to harm herself. “I know of someone who had an abortion, who came to you, and you gave her good advice.”
The gynaecologist gave her the name of a reliable clinic, and asked her to book a follow-up appointment with him after the procedure.
The following day, she called the Marie Stopes clinic from work. “They were really sensitive and understanding. I was surprised by how caring they were over the phone. They also warned me that when I reached their clinic there could be people who might try to stop me and be outside protesting.”
Leanne went to the back and asked for a loan – around LM700. “As soon as I was out of the bank, I booked the flights, and the abortion. Finally, everything was in place, and that night I slept peacefully for the first time in weeks.”
She travelled alone, and went to her appointment by herself. After discussing her medical history and asking the reason for wanting the abortion, the nurse performed an ultrasound scan. She then went into a pre-operation waiting area and chose an armchair, which would be allocated to her for the day.
“A nurse explained that when I felt ready, I could get changed into a clinic gown behind the partition, and that as l would be under general anaesthesia I could not eat or drink before the procedure.”
Once in the operating theatre she felt scared, but she was sure that she wanted to proceed with the abortion.
“They told me that I had nothing to worry about and that it would end in a few minutes. I was given anaesthesia and was told to count backwards from 10. The next thing I remember is waking up in the armchair.”
After the operation, Leanne only felt slightly bloated and sleepy. She was told she could leave the clinic only whenever she felt ready, and was provided with a small bag containing paracetamol, pads, and an aftercare booklet.
“Back in my room, I slept for many hours and woke up noticing the bed sheets were stained with blood. I also had period pain that soon disappeared.”
Leanne was not sick or in pain. “I was mostly happy that I could not remember anything from the procedure.”
Back home, she was checked up by the gynaecologist, who made sure everything was okay.
“I must admit I was lucky; I had no complications, and everything was relatively smooth-sailing. At Marie Stopes, they also discussed what options I had for contraception so that this would not happen again.”
After this experience, she stopped drinking alcohol. “It was not easy to trust men. And I thought it was my fault because I had let it happen.”
“But still, given the situation, I was not in a position to take care of a child. I did not want to disrupt the harmony of my “perfect family”. I wanted to continue developing in my career, and become a better person. I wanted to be in control and not let go as I did at the time.”
“My life now is much better—at least, so I think. My partner knows what happened and he understands; he does not judge. He listens to me and he knows I was not as strong back then as I am now, and that I have also grown from this experience.
“He understands that on a certain day every year, I remember what happened and I sometimes need to be alone. He is very supportive and always figures out a way to make me smile.”
“To whoever reads my story: thank you for reading and not judging. I am thankful that there are groups such as Doctors for Choice and Break the Taboo. I can only hope that the situation in Malta will soon change, and women will have more freedom to make their own choices.”
These stories are not numbers, statistics, or one-in-a-million cases.
These women are not “murderers” or “immoral”. They are real people. They have names. They are human beings in their own right, who deserve access to basic healthcare.
*These women’s names have been changed to protect their anonymity.
Do you think women in Malta should have safe access to abortion?