No person has faced criminal charges for getting an abortion or providing the means to terminate a pregnancy in Malta in the last five years.
Between 2015 and 2020, the police investigated three people for alleged abortions, none of whom were arraigned, they told Times of Malta.
Since the year 2000 only three women have been convicted of having an abortion.
In 2006, a 23-year-old Maltese woman was sentenced to three years’ probation.
The other two sentences happened in 2014, where one 30-year-old woman received two years’ jail, suspended for four years and another 28-year-old woman was sentenced to 18 months, suspended for two years.
It is estimated that some 400 Maltese women travel overseas to have an abortion and another 200 purchase abortion pills online every year.
Having an abortion or helping someone get an abortion is a crime in Malta and is punishable by up to a three-year jail sentence.
Farrugia’s bill is proposing that the laws currently in place are scrapped to remove any form of punishment on women who seek to terminate a pregnancy and introduce a 10-year prison sentence for anyone who carries out a forced or non-consensual abortion.
“If the law is not being enforced why not repeal it? Why keep a law that can be used as a weapon to mete out arbitrary justice,” Farrugia said.
Referring to the case of Hajar Raissouni, a journalist who was charged in Morocco for having pre-marital sex and an alleged abortion, and later jailed for a year, Farrugia said that while no charges are being made now, the law could be wielded to silence and punish.
“This case took place in another country. If you have a prominent dissident you can trot out the law at any time and use it, so if it’s not being used it makes sense to repeal it.”
Farrugia added that it was nonsense to believe that decriminalising abortion would open the floodgates.
“There are many laws, such as the embryo protection act, which protect the unborn,” she said.
“This is only the first step in that we also need to look into how structures in society need to be bettered so that we can prevent abortions from happening in the first place. [We need] a better framework and services so that we can adequately support people.”
'No guarantee it won't happen again'
“Women on Web sent 220 sets of abortion pills from March 2020 to March 2021. Women Help Women do not provide statistics but have confirmed that the number of abortion pill requests from Malta increased significantly during the pandemic. In the past year, approximately nine women per month approached the Abortion Support Network for help to procure an abortion abroad.
“Some have argued that the law has not been recently enforced so there is no issue, but my question to them is: Can you guarantee that the next woman who goes to hospital to receive medical attention after getting an abortion will not be reported and prosecuted? A woman was prosecuted seven years ago and there is no guarantee it will not happen again,” Dibben said.
'The law is there to make a statement'
Asked whether the apparent absence of enforcement of the law still served as a deterrent to women seeking abortion, Life Network Foundation chair Miriam Sciberras said the legislation still served a purpose in making a statement in favour of the preservation of life.
“The law is there to make a statement, namely that the life of the child from conception up to the ninth month is protected by law. Decriminalisation will devalue the life of the child in the womb,” she said.
“The argument that if a law that is there as a deterrent should be removed because it is broken is not logical. If we were to do the same with all laws that are broken, we would have no laws at all. We need to work and educate about the value of human life, how we need to protect it further.”
In light of this, Sciberras said that decriminalising abortion would not serve to support women who terminate a pregnancy.
“We do not empower women by eliminating the child in the womb. Abortion kills a life,” she said.