Maltese women have more abortions than a year has days. Hundreds of women per year have an abortion abroad. I may not be Maltese, but I spent a good chunk of my life living in Malta – and I was one of them.
I was visiting the Netherlands when I became pregnant against my will. I was supposed to fly back to Malta the next day. When I realised my period was two days late, I decided to take a pregnancy test before going to Malta – just to be sure.
When I saw the two lines, meaning “positive”, my heart dropped. Not once in my life had I considered having a baby. And here I was, knocked up, by accident. I was five weeks pregnant. At this stage, the embryo is the size of an apple seed.
The first thing I did was call the guy involved to share the news. We both instantly agreed that there was no way for us to keep the child at this point in time, for a number of reasons.
So the second thing I did was call an abortion clinic. When asking me about my details, the lady that picked up the phone was calm and understanding. It felt like I was making the right decision.
The Netherlands has an obligatory five-day waiting period to ensure that women are confident about their decision. In these five days, I considered my options. Whereas I was sure I did not want a child, especially not at this point in my life, my best friend and my mum insisted we had to consider keeping the baby. It was, after all, a huge decision to make.
But keeping the child was extremely risky. It had been less than a year since I was hospitalised with a psychotic episode, and I was (and still am) on lifelong medication for bipolar disorder.
These medications could harm the child. It can cause birth defects such as neural tube defects, heart defects, and developmental delay or neurobehavioural problems. On top of that, pregnant women with bipolar disorder already have seven times the risk of hospital admissions compared to pregnant women without bipolar disorder.
Staying pregnant would mean I’d have to stop taking my medication, which would increase the risk of relapse twice, and cause a 50% risk of recurrence within just two weeks. It would also mean four times higher risk of bipolar symptoms throughout the pregnancy.
I had to either stop my medication or risk harming the child. At this stage, stopping medication could have extreme consequences for my mental well-being, which would inevitably be harmful to the future child, too.
So I was sure of my decision, and so was the guy. On top of my mental health issues, neither of us were ready for this. Neither of us had meant for this to happen. We were both students with bright futures. We could not commit to another life right now – not timewise, not financially, and especially not mentally.
Five days later, we made our way to the abortion clinic. At this early stage it wasn’t referred to as an abortion, but as an overtime treatment. Sort of like a Plan B, except slightly later. It is the treatment you get if your period is late and you want to immediately end the pregnancy.
I went into the clinic alone, as COVID-19 restrictions didn’t allow for anyone to join. The waiting room was filled with foreign girls and women – French, Polish, Spanish. The nurse in the waiting room spoke six languages. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had seen a Maltese woman.
The nurses were welcoming, the doctors friendly. I was made to feel less bad about my decision, more understood. And I realised that I wasn’t alone in this. I wasn’t the only one that couldn’t stay pregnant for good reasons.
As I sat there, I realised how lucky I was to be from a country where abortion is not only legal but also free. To be from a place where women have the right to decide what to do with their bodies and their lives.
Because had I not been in the Netherlands at that time, I would have had to resort to an illegal and dangerous abortion. Or I would have had to organise an expensive trip to another country to end my pregnancy.
Had I been in Malta at that point, I could face some of the harshest penalties in the world, similar to those in countries like Iraq, Honduras and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are renowned for their violations of human rights.
Months later, I have no regrets. I am not mentally or financially able to take care of a child anytime soon. I had to choose my health over the embryo. And I don’t think I should go to jail for doing what I had to do.
Yet here I am, back in the country I love and call home, where I could go to jail for up to three years for ending my pregnancy. For deciding what happens in my body. For prioritising my life and my health. And still, there are those opposing the decriminalisation of abortion.
Here’s the thing: being against abortion is your right. But imposing your views on others is not. It is not your right to withhold girls and women who need it from having an abortion. It is not your right to tell girls and women what to do with their bodies and their lives.
There are situations that you cannot begin to imagine, and sometimes the choice is between the mother’s health and the foetus. If you are really pro-life, show us by caring about women’s lives, health and well-being.
To those using the phrase “abortion – not in my name”, I want to say: it isn’t. My abortion is not, and never will be, in your name. If you are against abortion, don’t have one. But my abortion is in my name. And I stand for women’s right to abortion.
Lovin Malta is open to external contributions that are well written and thought-provoking. If you would like your commentary to be featured as a guest post, please write to [email protected], add Guest Post in the subject line and attach a profile photo for us to use near your byline. Contributions are subject to editing and do not necessarily represent Lovin Malta’s views.
Share if you believe abortion must be decriminalised in Malta?