Today marks the worldwide acknowledgement of safe abortion and all EU member states are able to celebrate their pro-women and pro-autonomy policies except for our suffocatingly anti-choice country, Malta, where abortion remains criminalised with only very few exceptions.
And here are a couple of reasons that prove the error in this blanket ban on abortion, along with a couple of ways that Malta just doesn’t help itself.
1. The safety and well-being of the mental health of women
The Journal of the American Medical Association of Psychiatry (JAMA Psychiatry) conducted a longitudinal cohort study that found that women who were denied an abortion reported a signifcantly higher rate of anxiety symptoms, along with lower self-esteem and life-satisfaction.
Meanwhile, women who had their reproductive rights satisfied (or in other words, had an abortion) had their levels of depression improve or remain steady over time.
Meaning that denying abortion is initially associated with “psychological harm to women” while findings do not support the restriction of abortion on the basis that the procedure harms women’s mental health.
“Women who had an abortion demonstrated more positive outcomes initially compared with women who were denied an abortion,” the study said.
2. The cognitive, social and emotional welfare of children
According to psychology professor, researcher and author Nancy Felipe Russo, prospective studies – like Refused abortion: A follow-up study of 249 women whose applications were refused by the National Board of Health in Sweden – have found that if a woman identifies her pregnancy as unwanted, her subsequent child will be at risk for a wide range of negative outcomes, including deficits in cognitive, emotional, and social processes.
She also highlighted that being unwanted is linked to a higher likelihood of engaging in criminal behaviour, being on welfare, having an unstable marriage and experiencing psychiatric struggles as an adult.
3. An increase in unsafe abortions
A study conducted by the World Health Organisation and Guttmacher Institute found that there is a much higher rate of unsafe abortions in countries that have highly restrictive anti-abortion laws, like Malta, in comparison to countries in which this healthcare is broadly legal.
Ways in which Malta is shooting itself in the foot:
1. Poor sexual and reproductive health education
The Guidelines on Sexuality and Relationships Education in Maltese Schools includes one of its guiding principles to be “abstinence and postponement of sexual activity and sexual intercourse for young persons”.
This is a clearly unrealistic and ineffective goal that should not be prioritised by educators and it further explains the sobering fact that Malta has the highest teen birth rate in Southern Europe.
This comes after a decrease in the national statistics.
2. Lack of subsidy or government reimbursement schemes for contraception
Despite easy access to most contraceptive methods, the lack in subsidisation and financial support excludes a large majority of Maltese couples from the opportunity of practicing safe sex.
This is an illogical process when considering that poverty and financial instability are large factors that often determine unwanted pregnancies.
The lack of governmental aid also illustrates the mentality that considers safe sex a luxury as opposed to the necessity that it is, and thus stigmatises sex for pleasure over procreation.
If Malta wants to keep denying access to this form of healthcare then it should at least try its utmost to prevent unwanted pregnancies and save thousands of women and couples from being forced into a life that they cannot or do not want to support.
Fortunately, small steps have recently been taken towards the improvement of sexual health in Malta.
In fact, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne announced that a number of sexual health services that are currently only available at Mater Dei, will in the future be provided by health centres and clinics across the country.
What do you think about this?