‘I never thought it would happen to me’

Please take the time to read through the personal experiences on Break the Taboo Malta, and you will see a fraction of this reality

There is a veil of secrecy and silence that surrounds abortion experiences in Malta. Many feel they cannot speak about their abortions – even if they want to – due to fear of public judgment, as well as the potential legal repercussions if the abortion was done in Malta. When personal stories remain hidden, abortion continues being thought of as a rare event. But the truth is that almost daily someone in Malta is having an abortion.

Please take the time to read through the personal experiences on Break the Taboo Malta, and you will see a fraction of this reality. There are stories of domestic violence, sexual assault, pregnancy complications, and mental health issues… But, there are also stories of love and support, of kindness and empathy from partners, family members, friends, and supportive organisations locally and abroad.

Quoting here from these stories, people have abortions for a multitude of reasons, and commonly for more than one reason. Perhaps “something went wrong, and the contraceptive failed.” Maybe they were subjected to reproductive coercion or rape. Many women are mothers at the time of their abortions and may feel they “could not risk it and put a burden” on children they already have.  It could be because they were not financially stable enough and “emotionally … not ready to share the love and time with another kid.” Or perhaps they “couldn’t see [themselves] raising another child” because their family was already complete. It could be that on finding out they were pregnant they “were over the moon as this was a planned pregnancy,” but then “the results of the ultrasound were terrifying.”

Due to severe foetal anomalies people with very much wanted pregnancies may have “proceeded with the termination because [they] … loved [their] child so much that [they] did not want to see him suffering.” Whilst some were able to travel abroad to have an abortion, others were “denied the choice to terminate the pregnancy” and were “forced to be a walking grave,” continuing their pregnancy against their will. All this whilst “growing bigger and bigger,” having people congratulate them, not realising that the “baby would die the minute it was born, if not before.” Some might have had children after their abortions, and others may currently be “happily pregnant again and overjoyed everything is great.” Other women “never wanted children and always wanted a permanent form of contraception (female sterilisation), which, regrettably enough, is not provided in Malta to women who have not had children and are in their 20s.”

There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ abortions; no ‘genuine’ or ‘dishonest’ reasons. People are not defined by their abortions, in the same way that people are not defined by their miscarriages. For some, their abortions are significant events in their lives; for others they are not. People have different feelings about their abortions, including relief (which is the most common emotion), ambivalence, and grief. Many do not realise that being denied an abortion has a detrimental effect on women’s mental health, particularly in the short-term. It is not “highlighted enough how much the notion of “I HAVE to go along with this pregnancy” is so emotionally and mentally damaging to women.” We all know and love people who have abortions. They are not a separate group, nor a ‘certain type’ of person. They are part of our community. They are our sisters, friends, mothers, neighbours, daughters, co-workers, great-grandmothers. They are us. Through various roles in the field of reproductive justice, I have spoken to many people before and after their abortions.

People who need abortions come from all backgrounds and all walks of life, ages, faiths, sexual orientations, and gender identities. Girls, women, non-binary individuals, and trans men can all need and have abortions. People with disabilities have abortions. Catholic women have abortions, in the same way that others of different religions or of no faith do. Women who are opposed to abortion or who say they “never thought [they] would have an abortion” themselves also have abortions –

“Before this happened to me, I would have probably said that I am against abortion except for [certain circumstances] … However, when you are actually in the situation, it is a different story.” Whatever your personal views on abortion, I am sure we can all agree that people who have abortions should not have the fear of incarceration hanging over their heads. They should not feel that they cannot ask for information and support or speak openly about their abortions. No one should feel judged or terrified for accessing healthcare, for doing what is best for themselves and their families. If we want to live in a just society, we need to ensure that we can all choose if, when, and with whom to have children. This demands that abortion be decriminalised and made available and accessible locally. Malta’s criminalisation of abortion, the stigma, the lack of proper information and support, as well as the hateful comments in the public sphere are hurtful and harmful, as exemplified in the excerpts below –

“I love the beautiful island that I call home. But I will never forgive it for creating a society which conditioned me into fearing my own parents during my darkest moment.”

“We feel that we are outsiders to our society. We feel betrayed by our government for not taking a stand.”

“We are an underground community, because people … do not want to hear our voices.”

“I was terrified to go to my gynae and that she finds out I had an abortion. We didn’t tell anyone, not a soul.”

“We were so scared in those moments; scared of having to contact health professionals, as what we were doing is illegal in Malta.”

“I was … worried … that the police had been monitoring me and were going to bust through the doors.”

“I wish one day to be able to speak about this openly in Malta.”

“Help should be provided in our own country; we should not have to travel abroad.”

If you are seeking an abortion, know that you are not alone. To discuss your reproductive options in an unbiased, non-judgemental setting, you can contact FPAS Malta on 2778 2758. For information specifically on abortion you can contact Abortion Support Network on 2778 0991. To read abortion stories from Malta or submit your own, visit www.breakthetaboo.mt. Storytelling is powerful and can help challenge abortion stigma.

Quotes used in this article are all from personal stories on Break the Taboo Malta, https://www.breakthetaboo.mt/stories