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Abortions can be prevented | Natalie Psaila

The local pro-choice community observes Safe Abortion Day by holding its annual rally, which is attended by ever-growing numbers. This always attracts the anti-choice who criticise our messages calling for the decriminalisation and legalisation of abortion. 

Those of us who speak to women who need abortions understand their perilous situation - legal, social, medical, emotional, financial, and more. 

I have spoken to young women worried that their parents will find out that they are pregnant and who would also be upset if they realise that their daughter has had an abortion. I’ve spoken to others who were told they are carrying a foetus who will die within weeks. Others have told me that they cannot possibly support a fourth or a fifth child, not when their husband is out all day drinking, only to come home to strike terror through the household. And many, many others. 

People in Malta now know that if they buy pills from reputable organisations like Women on Web, they will receive them in a couple of weeks. We know that this wait is nerve-racking. 

Some call our Doctors for Choice number (20341712) asking us whether it’s safe to take pills they bought from eBay, or whether they should go to a dodgy clinic in Sicily and have the procedure there. It is good to note there are only a handful of hospitals in Sicily where abortions can be legally carried out. It’s safe to say that if a Sicilian doctor is offering to carry out an abortion within a few days, it’s probably illegal, which means it’s unregulated and unsafe. Also, pills bought off the internet are not safe because one can never be sure about how they were stored, whether they are at the correct dose, or even, what they really contain. 

Women have told me they tried overdosing on medicines and alcohol, or punching themselves in the stomach, before finally buying pills and using them. It is important for women to feel secure when seeking help about possible complications they think they might be experiencing during their medical abortion (with pills). Instead, in the current criminalising environment, women are afraid of speaking to their doctor or of going to hospital because they worry they might be reported. 

Thankfully, complications from medical abortion are very rare, but essentially, these women are risking their health and lives when they delay consulting with a doctor to check whether all is well with their symptoms. Malta owes our women, girls, trans men, and all those with a uterus quick, safe and easy access to abortion. 

Despite the tortuous experience that people seeking an abortion have to go through, they do not receive much sympathy from anti-choicers. Women are told to “close their legs”, use contraception, leave their abusers, and much more. However, contraception is expensive and, with the exception of condoms, requires a visit to the doctor for a prescription. The morning-after pill is pricier and possibly difficult to find. Before the last election, PL had declared that it would provide free contraception, but unfortunately, the Maltese are still waiting on this promise. Also, the morning-after pill can still not be bought from Mater Dei Hospital pharmacy, regardless of Chris Fearne’s declarations that it is indeed available. 

We, at Doctors for Choice, provide a morning-after pill prescription service to help women bypass possible intrusive questions when they attempt to buy it. Moreover, we send free condoms and pregnancy tests to anyone who requests them. Those who judge women so harshly for not using protection should consider advocating for free and accessible contraception instead. 

I also wonder where the anti-choicers are when it comes to teaching sex education to young people. Surely, prevention through understanding of how bodies work and how to use contraceptives effectively would help people not get pregnant unless they wish to, which would then lead to fewer abortions. “My Body’s Fantastic Journey” is a sex education book published by Doctors for Choice aimed at ten- to thirteen-year-olds. It contains child-friendly images and discusses puberty, consent, gender, contraception, and more. Please contact us for free copies. 

Our efforts at preventing unwanted pregnancies do not stop here. Doctors for Choice, Women’s Rights Foundation, and Women for Women set up the Family Planning Advisory Service (FPAS) helpline to provide information about all reproductive health matters including contraception, pregnancy, STIs, adoption and abortion. Also, Prof Isabel Stabile and myself run an Abortion Doula Support Service where we ensure that those who call are provided with full information about their options. 

Abortion care is essential and must be available in Malta. Studies have long shown that comprehensive sex education and easy access to contraception will lead to fewer abortions. When will the penny drop for the government to make prevention a priority?