Pro-choice activists are using Malta’s traffic congestion to help spread their campaign against the country’s strict anti-abortion laws.
For the last two weeks, a small number of demonstrators have stood along Aldo Moro Road holding placards with messages such as ‘Maltese women need abortion too’.
The morning stunt – at one of the main routes from the south of the country – aims to highlight the fact that abortions are happening and to push for safe and legal terminations.
Isabel Stabile, from Doctors for Choice, said she had chosen a particular spot on the road because of the heavy traffic at around 8.45am.
“The traffic here is amazing,” she said. “People have to slow down at this corner, as I have had to do myself so many times. They can read the signs.”
Reactions to the initiative have been mixed.
“We have people who wave and give me the thumbs up,” said Stabile. However, others have been threatening, with some making throat-slitting gestures, she added.
“But that’s ok. The point is they saw the message and they can go home and think about it, maybe discuss it with their friends,” she said.
“[They might say] ‘Guess what I saw at Marsa today?’ And perhaps one of their daughters or granddaughters may say ‘oh but nanna you know, if I were raped, would you let me have an abortion? Would you mind if I went ahead and did that?’”
Malta has one of the strictest abortion laws in the world and is the only country in the EU to ban the procedure under all circumstances.
It is estimated that some 400 women travel overseas to have an abortion every year while a further 200 purchase abortion pills online every year.
Last year, former Independent MP Marlene Farrugia presented a bill in parliament proposing the decriminalisation of abortion.
However, it was never put on the agenda by the House Business Committee and Farrugia lost her seat in the last election.
Stabile, a gynaecologist, said the law is not stopping abortions. It is simply making them more difficult and more dangerous.
She accused politicians of being more interested in vote-catching than the healthcare of women.
“I think they care more about their votes than about anything else that affects women,” she said. “Once they realise that these women having abortions are their sisters, their mothers, their nieces… these are real people, in their families.”
Abortion remains a controversial issue and a moral dilemma for many. A serious debate on a national level is yet to be initiated with both political parties saying they are against abortion.
The country’s absolute ban has been under heavy criticism in the past years. The latest rebuke came from the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, who in February reiterated that the blanket ban puts women’s rights at significant risk.
In its reaction to the commissioner’s observations, the government said it was working to improve reproductive healthcare services but did not agree that that should include an intrinsic right to abortion.
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