An estimated 400 women in Malta have an abortion every single year, despite the fact that it is illegal. That is 400 women per year having to deal with the stigma, judgement, potential criminal prosecution and insecurity of being pregnant with a child you don’t want in a country that won’t give you a choice.
The recently launched publication Dear Decision Makers tells the stories of 49 women who had abortions in Malta.
The publication aims to show decision-makers the human side of the cruel laws and the effects protecting the unborn have on real, living, breathing human women.
Four of the stories were from women who had to have an abortion because their life was at risk or because their child would have anomalies when born.
Georgina had a cancerous fibroid in her uterus, meaning she would die if she had given birth, leaving her two children orphaned.
When Laura finally got pregnant after many fertility issues, she found out her child would live a life of pain and suffering if it were to be born.
Sara’s life was put at risk because significant legal barriers hindered the doctors from administering the necessary treatment in time.
And after miscarrying twice, and having her life in danger with one pregnancy, Rose fell pregnant again at age 43. She could not pass through that trauma once more.
“As the baby was growing, so was the cancer”
Georgina*, an Anglo-Maltese woman brought up in a Catholic family, found out she was 11 weeks pregnant at age 30. She already had two children, and a husband “who would rather have a new kitchen than another child.”
When she went for her scan, the doctor found a huge cancerous fibroid in her uterus. “As the baby was growing, so was the cancer,” she said.
Georgina had read about women saying that they would rather die than abort. But her choice was clear. “The cancer… it was killing me and the foetus. My thoughts were with my two other children rather than with the foetus.”
I became pregnant because my coil had failed. According to “pro-life” I should have sacrificed my life for the foetus’ life and left my children orphaned.
The abortion was incomplete after the first try, so she had to return the following week to complete it. They then had to do a total hysterectomy – removing the uterus – meaning she can never get pregnant again.
“I had no regrets or remorse, but I was never able to discuss it with my family in Malta or the UK. My husband soon became my ex-husband, but I went on to start a great relationship with another person and I have two fantastic granddaughters.”
“This was not our dream. This was not something that we wished for. We needed support”
It took Laura* years due to her fertility problems, but she finally got pregnant. She and her husband were more than happy they would finally have the family they always wanted. But even though she was taking all the necessary medicines, something went wrong.
“We went for the nuchal scan, and to our disillusionment, we were told that the baby had a number of abnormalities. We were shocked. We had no reaction at all.”
They were immediately told that if Laura made it through the pregnancy, the baby would have to undergo several operations abroad. Moreover, they would be bedridden and most probably have to feed on a tube.
The couple couldn’t believe what they were hearing, so they sought a second opinion – and six more. “To cut a long story short, we ended up consulting seven specialists, including paediatricians and surgeons both locally and abroad; all giving us their opinion that termination would be the best option.”
They had support from their families, especially from their retired elderly parents, so they headed to a well-known general hospital in London.
“We never imagined that all the money we had saved – which should have been spent on our baby’s clothes, food, toys and education – had to be spent on a termination.”
They made the difficult decision to proceed with a medical termination.
“Medical termination is non-surgical: the woman is induced and the baby is delivered naturally. I am emphasising this fact because, in terminations, the baby is often portrayed as being slashed into pieces, but this doesn’t happen with medical termination.”
“As I signed the forms, crying, the doctor hugged me and whispered, “You are brave”, and at that point I really confirmed that I was saving my child from a life of pain and suffering.”
She delivered her baby. “Despite the visible anomalies, he was beautiful in our eyes. We hugged him, we named him, we spent time with him, we took photos with him and we loved him.”
The staff were super supportive, as they acknowledged that the couple proceeded with the termination because they loved their child so much that they did not want to see them suffer. “Our dream of starting our family faded away so quickly.”
It was a rough time for both of them. “We were afraid of seeking support as we could not divulge any information.”
“We felt like outsiders in our own society. We still feel betrayed by our government for not taking a stand in such circumstances.”
“This was not our dream. This was not something that we wished for. We are married, both paying taxes, and we were only trying to build a family. We needed support.”
“My fertility and my life were needlessly placed at risk”
A year and a half ago, Sara* and her partner decided to use an IUD as a means of contraception, as it is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancies and very low maintenance.
But at some point, Sara began to experience breast tenderness and bleeding just after her period.
“I immediately felt that something was wrong. I took a pregnancy test, and we were both shocked to find that it was positive. We discussed our options and even though it was unplanned, and that financially we would struggle, we decided to go through with the pregnancy.”
But deep down, she knew something wasn’t right. The first scan confirmed Sara’s fear: it was an ectopic pregnancy, and it was not viable. The embryo would never survive, and its existence threatened her fertility and her life.
Her gynaecologist was “brilliant”, and scans and tests showed that she was a good candidate to be treated with a medicine called methotrexate. The ectopic pregnancy could be treated without the need for surgery, thanks to which her fallopian tube would be saved.
But in Malta, this isn’t an easy process. Though the gynaecologic team was very quick to prepare all the necessary paperwork, as abortion is illegal in Malta, there were significant barriers in place that hindered the doctors from administering the treatment.
The case had to be brought to a board and discussed at length, which took two and a half days. In the meantime, the embryo was growing, so with every hour that passed her fallopian tube was at a higher risk of scarring and perforating and the treatment was becoming less likely to work.
“My fertility and, indeed, my life were needlessly placed at risk because of unnecessary procedural delays, all stemming from this blanket ban on abortion.”
The first dose did not work and the delay in treatment was partly to blame, as it is a time-sensitive condition. Thankfully, the second dose worked.
“It was a traumatic experience, made even more traumatic by the whole methotrexate issue. I’m on the road to recovery now but I am still incredulous at the stigma that caused me to pass through this.”
“I did it for my own health and to protect my other child, but my country has failed me as a woman and as a citizen”
Rose* had mixed emotions when she found out she was pregnant. “I was panicked, as I felt that 43 was not the right age for me to have a baby.”
She had already been through three pregnancies, two of which ended in miscarriages, one at 13 weeks and the other at seven weeks.
During the other pregnancy, from which she eventually got a healthy baby, she had several complications. “Every month there was something new. But the worst was when, at 29 weeks, they told me that my life was in danger.”
“My child was born by C-section at 35 weeks, so that I could start treatment as soon as possible. Luckily, he was born healthy. I went through treatment for a whole year.”
All of these experiences came rushing back to her mind when she found out she was pregnant again. “I couldn’t pass through this trauma for a fourth time.”
“I went to see a gynaecologist, and pleaded for help to have the pregnancy terminated, but all he suggested was that I take anxiety medication and ‘not think about it.’”
Thanks to Doctors for Choice, she was provided with all the information she needed. She had an ultrasound at six weeks, when no heartbeat was detected and several blood clots were found.
The second ultrasound there was a heartbeat, but several abnormalities as well. “When I asked about the abnormalities, I was informed that I would either have a miscarriage or, if the pregnancy continued, the baby would be born with anomalies.”
“I could not risk it, for myself or for my other child.” After due consideration, she and her husband decided to terminate the pregnancy. “I ordered the pills through Women on Web against a €100 donation.”
“I was afraid that I would not receive the tablets on time. I was also afraid of getting caught, as here in Malta what I was doing is considered illegal. The restrictions to travel abroad during this time posed even more challenges.”
Luckily, she received the pills within a week. “Everything went exactly as indicated in the instructions. My husband was with me throughout the whole process.”
“I am not ashamed of what I did, as I did it for my own health and to protect my other child. But my country has failed me as a woman and as a citizen.”
“Thank you to those who work for such organisations for providing the information and services needed to everyone who seeks help. Every person has their own reasons, and they are never to be judged. Help should be provided in our own country. We should not have to travel abroad.”
The other 45 stories provide insight into the lives of those women who had to have an abortion, be it due to medical reasons, because their own life was at risk, or because they were still a child themselves. Some women were raped, while others turned suicidal due to their pregnancy.
Every single one of those women has her own story. Every single woman has her own trauma. Every single woman has her own voice. And every single woman should have her own choice.
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 abortion should be decriminalised in Malta?