ripple effects on Malta’s abortion debate

The US Supreme Court’s potential move to overturn ‘Roe v. Wade’ will affect Malta’s own discussion on abortion and its reproductive rights movement, says former MP Marlene Farrugia, who last year proposed a bill to decriminalise abortion.

‘Roe v. Wade’ is the court’s 1973 ruling enshrining the constitutional right to abortion in the US. Last week, a draft opinion was leaked to Politico indicating that the majority of justices on the Supreme Court favour stripping women of the right to abortion. Protesters have since been taking to the streets across the country.

While the leak has sent shockwaves through the US and set off a global discussion on reproductive rights, what do pro-choice and pro-life activists make of the situation in Malta, the only EU country where abortion is banned?

Earlier this year, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights called on Malta to decriminalise abortion.

A year on from tabling her private members’ bill – a first in Malta – Farrugia is concerned that many Maltese are unaware of the true consequences of overturning ‘Roe v. Wade’. 

“Many Maltese and Gozitans do not understand what is going on in America right now because we didn’t and still don’t talk about women’s reproductive rights and abortion,” Farrugia told Times of Malta.

“The rollback in US will weaken women’s rights to privacy and control over their lives and bodies across the globe,” she said.

Former MP Marlene Farrugia. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lup

Political ‘messiah’ needed

Malta has the strictest abortion laws in the world, with the practice prohibited for practically all cases. It is the only EU state which bans abortion.

Farrugia said abortion would continue to remain a taboo here until a ‘messiah’ of a politician decides to start a discussion.

“Before a very popular, populist male Maltese politician gives the thumbs up to kickstart the discussion on at least decriminalising abortion, the status quo will persist,” the former Labour and Democratic Party MP said.

Farrugia said the main reason she presented the bill last year was because she believed we deserve to live in a society where all women have full control over their bodies.

“I am not in favour of abortion, no one wants an abortion – I am in favour of women having proper free healthcare, full autonomy of their body.”

I am not in favour of abortion… I am in favour of women having full autonomy of their body

She said every person is ‘pro-life’ and there should be no conflict between the two groups.

“Reproductive rights should be complete and total. I know that ‘Roe v. Wade’ is about abortion, but really and truly, the issue is that women might soon lose control over their lives and decisions.”

Encouragement for pro-life movement

The pro-life movement has a different take and Life Network Foundation chairperson Miriam Sciberras said the lobby is very encouraged with the possible changes going on in the US.

The pro-life and Catholic-focused NGO primarily campaigns on anti-abortion issues.

“Anytime there is a push towards protecting life, we see this is as an encouragement to the Maltese pro-life movement. It further empowers us to be a voice in Europe, a Europe which is going the opposite way in the protection of life.”

Sciberras said the pro-life movement in America has been growing and this was evident from the number of abortion clinics closing down and the increasing number of youths active for the cause.

“We see great big numbers of American women who had abortions and form part of the pro-choice movement. They no longer want to remain silent about the trauma they faced. What is happening in America makes us more resolute to provide support to all women who are facing unexpected pregnancies.”

A few days before the Supreme Court draft was leaked, a local pro-choice lobby, Doctors for Choice, released a short documentary about the realities and struggles women face when obtaining an unsafe abortion in Malta.

“We know what happens when abortion is completely illegal – women develop physical and mental health disorders, slip into poverty, get tied down to abusive partners and more. This is what happens in Malta too,” said Dr Natalise Psaila, a member of Doctors for Choice.

She said strict abortion laws were about controlling women and their bodies. Last year, a pregnant woman and abuse victim in Malta was temporarily held from going abroad because her partner claimed she wanted an abortion, she said, by way of example.

“This is a reality that some US states are already planning to do, restrict movement across borders for abortion. The overturning of ‘Roe v. Wade’ will mean that more than half of US states will have a ban on access to abortion.”

She said the lobby planned to continue to engage in discussions with the public and policymakers about the need for abortion care.

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