205 Maltese abortions since 2007
In Malta, it is illegal to have an abortion in all circumstances including cases of rape but 205 Maltese mothers had abortions abroad over the past five years.
Maltese law protects the rights of an unborn child through the Domestic Violence Act, but does a woman have the right to abort? Can a woman terminate a pregnancy without her partner’s consent?
Even if in their residential country it is illegal women are having abortions in countries such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. According to statistics for England and Wales released by the UK Department of Health there were 6,151 non-residents who had an abortion in 2011. Women residing in Malta who had an abortion in the UK accounted to one per cent of all non-residents, with a total of 63 women.
Marie Stopes Clinic is a provider of sexual and reproductive health services with clinics in the UK. Media and Communications Advisor the clinic Helen Marsden, said that between 2007 and 2011 they registered 205 Maltese clients. The highest number of Maltese clients who had an abortion at a Marie Stopes clinic in those five years was in 2009 when the number reached 52. In “2007 Maltese clients were only five but the number shot up again in 2008 with 27 cases. 2009 saw a further rise with abortion cases by Maltese mothers reaching 52, slightly less than the 45 and 46 registered in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The clinic did not provide the age brackets of the mothers.
Women on Waves, directed by founder Rebecca Gomperts, is a non-profit organisation that uses a Dutch registered ship to provide abortion services in countries where this is difficult or illegal. Dr. Gomperts believes that “abortion is a reality for women” who are forced to travel abroad if they can afford it. “In Malta, like in any other country, there are people who believe they have the right to prevent women from having a safe and legal abortion because of their religious conviction. The conservative religious opposition against women’s rights and also their rights to abortion restricts women’s personal freedom and endangers lives,” Dr. Gomperts added. However Dr. Rebecca Gomperts has not yet been with her ship to Malta but hopes to do so in the coming years.
Dr. Gomperts provides medical abortion to women internationally for free because she thinks “it is a huge medical scandal that there are still women dying. Indeed 48,000 women per year die, because they have been denied the access to a safe and legal abortion”. Gomperts points out that an unwanted pregnancy has major effects on the socio-economic status of women.
Ireland, like Malta a predominantly Catholic country, is undergoing reform in its legislation concerning abortion. This is in reaction to a case that happened last October when Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar, 31, died as a result of septicemia, a severe infection of the bloodstream, which can happen during pregnancy. At 17 weeks, she repeatedly requested a termination of the pregnancy at Galway University Hospital. The staff refused, for the foetus was alive and Irish law does not permit abortions, as Ireland is “a Catholic country”. Mrs. Halappanavar’s husband said, “Savita had told the consultant she is not Catholic, but Hindu, so why impose the law on her?”
What if this happened in Malta? Lawyer Michael Camilleri says, “the law prohibits abortion and there is no explicit provision that makes an exception to or for the protection of the life and health of the woman”. Asked if the father of the unborn child can legally contest the mother from undergoing an abortive procedure abroad he explained that “there is nothing stopping a Maltese woman from performing an abortion abroad” as the father cannot stop the woman from travelling. “A few years ago a Member of Parliament had suggested the introduction of a law prohibiting the mother from leaving Malta to perform an abortion but no legislation to this effect was done.”
There is no common European Union law regarding abortion because of the disagreements expressed mainly by Malta, Ireland and Poland. The European Court of Human Rights “seems to take a case by case approach taking into consideration the laws of the country and has not gone as far as declaring a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy where abortion is illegal,” Dr. Camilleri said.