Updated Friday 8am 

A woman charged with abortion has been given a conditional discharge for three years.

The woman was accused of having a medical abortion at home, according to Doctors for Choice, which revealed the news in a post on social media.

She was assisted throughout the case by the Women's Rights Foundation's legal team. 

"What should have never happened, happened today," Doctors for Choice said on Facebook.

The NGO said that throughout the investigation and proceedings, the woman was treated with the dignity and respect that she deserved by the police and the judiciary.  

"While we appreciate that, it does not change the fact that this should have never, ever happened in the first place," it said. 

"Access to safe abortion is recognised worldwide as a basic part of women’s healthcare and a basic human right. That women are prosecuted for it locally should put us all to shame," Doctors for Choice said. 

Under Maltese law, the courts can decide to discharge an offender subject to the condition that he or she commits no offence for up to three years, if it is considered inexpedient to inflict punishment. 

Abortion is illegal in Malta under all circumstances. 

It has been nearly a decade since someone faced criminal charges for getting an abortion or providing the means to terminate a pregnancy in Malta.

In 2014, a 30-year-old woman received two years’ jail sentence suspended for four years. In the same year a 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 punishable by up to three years in prison. 

Andorra and Malta are the only European countries that prohibit abortion in all situations.

The government is meanwhile proposing amendments to the criminal code that would allow for abortions to be carried out in circumstances when a woman's life is at risk or her health in grave danger. 

Health Minister Chris Fearne has said he expects the amendments to have gone through all parliamentary stages by the summer recess.

'This will continue to happen'

In a statement, a group of NGOs said this will not be the last time a woman is charged with abortion.

"We often hear in public and political discourse that women are never prosecuted in Malta for accessing abortion.

"Thursday's was an outrageous and painful reminder that this is not unthinkable, that it has happened, and can happen to any pregnant person who has an abortion through any means in our country. 

"There cannot be talk of equality as long as women and people who can get pregnant and who access abortions continue to be treated as criminals," the activists said.

The NGOs are Academics for Choice, aditus Foundation, Doctors for Choice, Grandparents for Choice (Nanniet għall-Għażla), Integra Foundation, Lawyers for Choice, Moviment Graffitti, Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement, Malta Humanist Association, Men Against Violence, Parents for Choice, Women’s Rights Foundation and Young Progressive Beings.

The organisations claimed Thursday's case was proof that Malta stood out as "a pariah and a violator of women's rights".

The woman, they said, was charged with a crime for something that has been acknowledged as a right and essential healthcare by practically every other modern democratic country decades ago, as well as every human rights and healthcare organisation in the world.

"Our politicians, our justice system, our healthcare system continue to betray women and those who can get pregnant. We wallow in our ignorance and take pride in what should be our shame."

Every year, hundreds of women in Malta self-manage their own abortions. Medical abortion pills (mifepristone and misoprostol) are safe and are listed on the WHO’s list of essential medicines, they added.

However, the criminalisation of abortion means that people worry about accessing the care they need for fear of legal (and social) repercussions. In the absence of laws that protect them, they feel alone – scared of talking about it and scared of seeking support, the NGOs said.

The groups, which together call themselves the Voice for Choice coalition, called for the immediate decriminalisation of abortion. 

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