Almost 70% of Maltese adults oppose abortion when a woman's life is not at risk, according to a survey that also shows broad support for the termination of a pregnancy to save the mother's life.
The survey of 805 people was carried out by Misco on behalf of the Archdiocese of Malta last month as the country debates changes to its strict anti-abortion laws.
It paints the picture of a nation that agrees with abortion to save the mother’s life but where the majority disagree with terminating a pregnancy for other reasons.
The survey also shows a generational gap in attitudes towards abortion.
It found that almost 80% of people agreed with abortion when the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother compared to almost 25% agreeing when the woman’s life is not at risk.
Meanwhile, one-fifth of respondents, 21 percent agreed with abortion when a mother does not wish to have more children.
Parliament is currently debating an amendment to the criminal code that will remove Malta’s blanket ban on abortion and free doctors and pregnant women from the threat of criminal prosecution if a pregnancy is terminated to protect a woman "suffering from a medical complication which may put her life at risk or her health in grave jeopardy".
The proposal has sparked a national debate, with critics, including the church. saying the government is trying to introduce abortion by stealth and proponents saying the changes are needed to ensure legal certainty.
Respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed with abortion in three different scenarios:
- when the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother,
- when the pregnancy does not endanger the mother’s life,
- and when the mother does not wish to have more children.
Results showed that almost 80% agreed with abortion when the mother’s life was in danger, more than 10% disagreed and around the same proportion did not know. In cases where the woman’s life was not at risk almost 25% agreed, almost 70% disagreed and just under 10% did not know. In cases of the mother not wanting more children, almost 20% agreed, more than 70% disagreed and just under 10% did not know.
Respondents were not asked specifically about whether they agreed with abortion when the woman's health is in grave danger.
The survey also highlights the stark difference in opinion between the younger and older generations.
Age was a significant factor in the responses given, with more people in the younger ages agreeing with abortion in all three circumstances.
Out of those who agree with abortion when the pregnancy was endangering the mother’s life the difference was marginal.
However, when it came to the other two questions, age resulted in significantly different views.
Out of the almost 25% of those who agree with ending the pregnancy when there is no risk for the mother the younger age group agrees more. Results showed that almost 55% of those aged 16-24 agreed, compared to a third of those 25-34, a fifth those aged 35-54, just over 10% of those aged 55-64, and slightly under 10% of over 65s.
Similarly, out of the almost 20% of those who agree with abortion if the mother does not want more children, the majority of those who agreed were in the younger age cohorts: almost 40% for those aged 16-24, 30% of those aged 25-34, more than a fifth of those aged 34-44, almost 20% of those aged 45-54, and around 10% of those aged 55 and over.
Different genders’ views
A focus on the replies by gender showed that fewer women than men agreed with abortion in the case of the pregnancy endangering the woman’s life but, on the other hand, more women agreed with abortion in the other two situations - when there was no danger.
More men ( over 80%) than women (over 79%) agreed with abortion when the pregnancy endangered the mother’s life. However, the situation reversed in the other two circumstances. More women ( nearly 30%) agreed with abortion when the mother’s life was not endangered compared to almost 20% of men. Similarly, more women (25%) agreed with abortion when a mother did not want more children compared to almost 15% of men.
Prime Minister Robert Abela has said that the government is willing to consider different wording, as long as the principles of the bill remain untouched. Parliament voted on the second reading of the bill on Monday and it will go to the committee stage, when amendments can be made, before a final vote next year.