Malta’s blanket ban on abortions creates 400 stories per year. That is how many abortions Maltese women have, despite the fact that it is illegal.
That is 400 women per year having to deal with the stigma, the judgement, potential criminal prosecution and the 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, or, in this case, who were forced to give birth to a child they didn’t want or couldn’t have.
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. The suffering that women undergo because of the country’s archaic laws.
Two of the stories were from women who were forced to give birth under terrible circumstances.
One woman had been forced to keep her baby due to Malta’s abortion laws, despite the fact that she was on psychiatric medication that would harm the child.
After she went cold turkey on her medication to save the foetus and experienced horrible mental episodes, her doctor told her the baby would be taken away from her if her mental health didn’t improve.
The other woman was forced to continue her pregnancy, even when she was told her baby had a hernia and an inverted heart. Even when she knew her baby wouldn’t live. Even when she knew it would die upon being born, or even before that.
“How can you force someone to have a baby and then take it away?”
Alice* was working as a waitress and living with her abusive mother when she turned 17. She said her life was a “wreck”, and she took to drugs and alcohol to cope.
That year, she became pregnant after a one-night stand. Her church school had suppressed any form of information with regards to sex and different birth control methods, and she most certainly wasn’t getting this information at home.
“It may sound stupid to you, but I simply did not know how easy it was to get pregnant.”
When she didn’t get her period, she first blamed it on the frequent drug use. But when she started getting sick, she took a pregnancy test. “I took it in the Bay Street bathroom, alone. I had not shared any of these worries with anyone.”
The test came out positive. “I felt faint in the toilet stall and sat down. I took another three tests to make sure it was correct.”
Having been diagnosed with ADHD and other things, she was on a “cocktail of medication” from the age of six.
She contacted her social worker, who told her that the medication she was on would cause deformities or miscarriage during the pregnancy – so she stopped all her medications cold turkey.
“The following months became a blur. I was locked up for nine months and my family was far from supportive. I broke everything in my room. I didn’t shower. I didn’t eat. The withdrawals from my medication made me hallucinate.”
In one of those months, she found step-by-step instructions online on how to conduct an abortion herself with a clothes hanger.
“I got an iron flexible hanger and stretched it out. I held it close to my vagina, but I could not go through with it. I was too scared. The walls used to talk to me. No one knows what it felt like to speak to strangers and not live like a human for almost a year.”
Her doctor told her that if her mental health didn’t improve, they would take away her baby. “How can you force someone to have a baby and then take it away?”
Upon turning 18, her mental health had improved and she had started going to Servizz Għożża, a group for teenage mothers. Soon after, she gave birth to a baby boy.
“I remember giving birth alone. The midwife told me I could have two people in the delivery room given that I was young and was in a rough mental state. I told her I had no one. She looked at me in shock and apologised. She then brought in five additional midwives for support.”
The day after she gave birth, she started taking her medication again. Though she was given adoption papers to sign, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She decided to keep her child and to carry the burden it came with.
“I had to make peace with the fact that I had to sacrifice my entire life for this new human, and I was forced to be okay with it. If I had had the choice of aborting that pregnancy, I would have done it in a heartbeat.”
Now, she has accepted and is grateful for the life she has been given, even though it isn’t what she wanted. “Thanks to my son, I am a better person and I’ve been clean ever since I gave birth. But even though he saved me, this was not the life I chose. I am so grateful, regardless, for having him. He makes my life worth living.”
She ends her story: “Women and GIRLS in Malta need options. We need support.”
“I was forced to be a walking grave”
Martina* got married in 2006, and a year later her husband and she were ready to start a family. She immediately got pregnant and made an excited announcement to all their family and friends.
“I went on a very healthy diet, did all the pelvic exercises and went on daily walks. We were all so very excited. At the time I was reading a story about a Russian spy named Anya, and I liked this strong, tough character so much that I decided to name my baby girl after her.”
After six months, the bliss was suddenly interrupted as the doctor noticed a diaphragm hernia. “The obstetrician told me that the body would probably self-abort, but in the meantime, there was nothing they could do.”
Further ultrasounds revealed that Anya also had an inverted heart, and further along, the hernia spread to her stomach.
For the next three months, Martina was in a haze. “I kept growing bigger and bigger, and people kept congratulating me.”
Working in a showroom, she was meeting people every day, who would ask her how far along she was, whether she was expecting a boy or a girl and when she was due.
Meanwhile, Martina was harbouring a big secret: her baby would die the minute it was born, if not before.
“I was forced to be a walking grave.”
“After a C-section delivery, Anya lived assisted for 50 minutes.”
It took her four years to recover mentally. She had another baby, who grew up to be a healthy 7-year-old. But the trauma is still there.
“I was denied the choice to terminate the pregnancy. They made me pass through this immense trauma, both physical and psychological. All because some men in power made this choice for me that there should never be a termination. No matter the circumstances. Not even if the baby has absolutely no chance of surviving outside of the womb.”
Since both of her births were delivered via C-section, she could never have another child – even though I always dreamt of having two.
“This heartache is real. I have to live with this tragedy every single day. It never gets better; it’s only replaced by sadness and anger.”
“After you read my story, could you look me straight in the eye, and still say “no”? Would you still tell me that I am selfish and heartless for wanting abortion to be legalised in Malta? And for those who say I was one in a million, I know for certain that cases like mine are not documented and they happen often. I lived it, and I spoke to other women like me.”
“We are an underground community because people like you do not want to hear our voices.”
The other 47 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.
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?