Commentary Abortion

Abortion in Malta: When Silence Kills

Stigma Shame and Sexuality Series

The family ideal may place restrictions on abortion in Malta, but it doesn't stop women on the island from resorting to abortions on their own. Those women who can't afford to leave the island do it illegally putting their health at risk.

This post is by Marie Anne Zammit, and is part of Tsk Tsk: Stigma, Shame, and Sexuality, a series hosted by Gender Across Borders and cross-posted with Rewire in partnership with Ipas.

Anita’s star was rising. She was slowly heading toward the peak of her career and life seemed to be fulfilling her ambitions and aspirations. It all happened suddenly. One cold day, Anita discovered she was pregnant and all her prospects ebbed away. She could not commit herself to raising children, especially now that all paths had been open. Anita longed to escape from this unexpected situation but had no way out and no one could offer the help and support she needed.

Circumstances could have been different if instead Anita lived in a country where abortion was legal Unfortunately, Anita lived in one of the EU states, Malta, where abortion is legally restricted, criminalized, and a highly sensitive issue. These EU countries are Malta, Ireland and Poland, which prohibit abortion, and where abortion is only permitted if there is a question of life or death and where birth would cause the death of the mother. However, even in these circumstances, access remains very limited.

In Malta, abortion is rarely discussed and whenever it is debated in the media or in public, it always results in heated arguments. Women’s control over their bodies and their reproductive rights provoke strong reactions from conservative groups and religious groups who call themselves “pro-life.” These groups seem to be numerous and appear more regularly on the media than the others who are pro-choice.

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Often, I wonder if there are any groups who are pro-choice in Malta, for even political parties, including the Malta Green Party, were restricted in their campaigns and had to declare that their political views and manifestos are not in favor of and do not promote the introduction of abortion on the island. Given the fact that they did, the consequences would result in lesser votes in the General election. The reality is that Malta is still predominantly Catholic and the Church has a great influence on the state’s decisions.

There may be women who are pro-choice and in favor of abortion but prefer to remain silent. They do not sound their views in public as they may have to deal with unpleasant situations as a consequence of being blunt and forthright on the subject of abortion.

The effects may be subtle at first and would manifest in isolation at work and from certain circles, limited or no chances for promotion at work, and in certain situations, even character assassination.  The few women who express themselves in favor of abortion are considered to have no maternal instinct, viewed as weird, or seen as justifying their actions for having an abortion sometime in the past. These repercussions make it hard for women, even for women in politics. In most cases, they have to keep silent and conform to the traditional family values.

The family ideal is still considered as the culprit of Maltese society but this does not mean that women on the island are not resorting to abortions. Those women who can afford to do so travel to other countries – mainly England and Italy – in order to have an abortion. Recent figures obtained by the Maltese National Statistics office declared that an average of 57 abortions a year were carried out on Maltese women in England and Wales in the previous ten years. In 2008 the figures dropped to 38, but went up in 2009 with 78 abortions.

Other women who can’t afford to leave the island do it illegally putting their health at risk. Most often, clandestine abortions are performed by individuals who are not medically trained and the hygienic conditions are unregulated.

Situations where women’s health and life are not protected may trigger further complications. Incomplete abortions result in hemorrhages and infections. After this failed intervention, women often end up at the Casualty Department presenting other excuses, such as saying it was a miscarriage, or they not go to hospital at all, which is even more serious. This is because, if discovered, these women face criminal charges, and even if the operation fails, no one would risk taking responsibility. In Malta the penalty is three years’ imprisonment.

In spite of these risks, women are still resorting to unsafe abortions and legislation is the only key to eliminating clandestine abortions. This goes along with more measures to prevent unwanted pregnancies and avoid abortion. In situations where abortion is the ultimate solution, it ought to be safe.

If not, it would mean that women have no rights over their bodies and no guarantee that their health and lives are protected. I am afraid that the situation will remain the same and abortion will remain prohibited, adding to women’s risks and giving more power to men, to the Church and to moral conservative groups to dictate for us women.

Meanwhile, those who are pro-choice cannot have their voices heard for they have to face the consequences. It seems that the liberals are losing their battles and at the end it is women who are suffering most and risking their lives.

Marie Anne Zammit is a Maltese social worker, author, and artist, and she currently coordinates a social issues committee for the National Council of Women in Malta.

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”