From silence to conversation

Why Malta needs a real debate on abortion.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament backed a call to include access to abortion in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, specifically calling out Malta for restricting access to abortion and criminalising women who access abortion care. The resolution was mostly symbolic since inclusion in the Charter would require a unanimous agreement by all of the EU member states.

Yet, for Maltese reproductive justice activists like myself, the European Parliament’s resolution held a deeper significance. It served as a powerful validation of the tireless work we have undertaken for nearly a decade.  To witness a major European institution explicitly identify Malta as out of step with a fundamental human right – access to safe and legal abortion – was a compelling acknowledgment of our advocacy efforts.

The resolution came only a few days after the statement by Malta’s new President that abortion rights should be decided by a referendum. While a referendum may reflect a democratic process,  it is unfortunately a tool that can be too easily exploited by fear-mongering and misinformation campaigns. As someone who has witnessed firsthand the profound impact of Malta’s abortion ban on women’s lives, I know that denying access to safe and legal abortion services doesn’t erase the need. It forces women into difficult circumstances, with potentially devastating consequences. The unfortunate reality is that the shame and stigma surrounding abortion in Malta often shield the public from the true human cost of the current restrictions. Many voters haven’t been exposed to the desperate situations women sometimes face.  A referendum risks placing women’s lives in the hands of public opinion, often shaped by incomplete information. This disregards the profound impact abortion restrictions have on women’s well-being and autonomy.

Following the President’s statement, the Prime Minister called for a broader discussion, while  in the aftermath of the vote, the Life Network Foundation pressed the Prime Minister for a public declaration of opposition to the inclusion of abortion rights in the Charter. Notably, the Prime Minister has yet to respond.  His silence so far is encouraging and can be seen as a reaffirmation of his commitment to an inclusive, open discussion rather than proclamations.

I stand firmly in support of the Prime Minister’s call for a broader national conversation on abortion. While I have been championing and calling for the decriminalisation of abortion, I also recognise that legal changes are just the first step on a longer journey. Lifting the ban in a climate rife with stigma and deep societal resistance could leave us far from our desired destination  – a Malta where all women, regardless of background or belief, can make informed decisions about their bodies and their reproductive health without fear, shame or judgement. A change that leaves significant portions of the population feeling alienated or unheard could create further obstacles, hindering progress towards a more just and supportive environment for women in Malta. Our deep Catholic roots make the abortion debate particularly challenging.  Decades of messaging have reinforced a singular perspective. Acknowledging this cultural reality is essential if we hope for meaningful progress.

I believe that the journey towards a more just and supportive society for all women in Malta begins with a conversation. The European Parliament resolution offers us a catalyst – let us use it to ignite a genuine, compassionate, and ultimately productive dialogue. This debate extends beyond the intellectual; it stirs emotions and challenges deeply-held values shaped by our cultural background. True progress demands not only respect for differing viewpoints, but a sincere effort to understand them. By exchanging hostility for empathy, we open ourselves to finding solutions that respect human rights, safeguard the well-being of all women and those who can become pregnant, and recognise the complex tapestry of values that shape our society.

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