In his opinion piece entitled ‘Charity Saves Lives’, (Times of Malta, April 13) Klaus Vella Bardon wrote “Doctors for Choice feel that, instead of offering support to these women... we should offer them the choice of abortion.”

Yes, women in Malta deserve the same right to determine their futures and decide when to become mothers, as do women in the vast majority of countries worldwide where abortion is legal. Our message is clear: abortion rights are women’s rights. This should be part of the support that’s offered to women.

Abortion rights are part of a broader effort by women to achieve autonomy over their future and lives. The right to abortion cannot be viewed in isolation, and cannot be separated from other important rights and freedoms women have fought for over the years, including the right to equality in the workplace and at home, the right to financial and legal independence, and the right to prevent pregnancy through contraception. All these rights are complementary and are necessary for women to achieve full equality and autonomy in our society.

As a doctors’ association we are very aware of the negative effects the ban on abortion in Malta is having on our women. Women facing unwanted pregnancies in our country are unable to seek impartial advice and discuss their options. Instead they are left to suffer in silence, and are forced to devise a solution on their own which is usually either an illegal abortion using pills, or a clandestine abortion abroad.

Not only is this detrimental to their mental health, but also to their physical health because these women are usually reluctant to seek medical attention if things go wrong. Women in our country deserve better; they deserve abortion care to the same standard as any other developed nation.

Abortion rights are part of a broader effort by women to achieve autonomy over their future and lives

The travel restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have heightened the need to allow timely access to safe, legal abortion in Malta. During this pandemic we have noticed a surge in calls for help from women in Malta who are unable to travel abroad for an abortion, and so has the charity Abortion Support Network, which assists women in Malta who are seeking an abortion.

The World Health Organisation has stated: “Women’s choices and rights to sexual and reproductive healthcare should be respected irrespective of COVID-19 status, including access to contraception and safe abortion.” Unfortunately, during the pandemic women in Malta have less access to safe abortion than ever before.

There are already reports of attempted suicides by women in Northern Ireland who were unable to travel to Britain for an abortion recently. We should not wait until we have local casualties before reforming our inhumane abortion laws.

This year, to stress that abortion rights are women’s rights, we took part in the Women’s March on International Women’s Day in Valletta. Whenever we interact directly with the public during such events, we are always left with the same impression: the Maltese public is keen and ready to discuss the topic of abortion rights.

When interacting in person, we encounter none of the anti-abortion enraged babble that is found on social media. Instead, we hold rational discussions, and people are very willing to listen. Occasionally we become the ones doing the listening when women approach us with their personal abortion stories.

 These women have different stories but one message: the country’s ban on abortion has harmed them, and they want the situation to change. And we, along with other pro-choice activists and organisations, will continue pushing for that change.

Christopher Barbara, Gilbert Gravino, Jamie Grech, Elena Saliba and Isabel Stabile write on behalf of Doctors for Choice. 

To avoid confusion, Barbara is not the chairperson of the Pathology Department at Mater Dei Hospital. 

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