Women who have an abortion face up to three years in prison in Malta. Since the intervention was legalize by a referendum in Ireland last year, online offers of help have now focus on the Mediterranean island. On the Internet, conservative and progressive groups fight for the values of a changing society.
Julie Borg did not know that she could go to prison in Malta for an abortion until she became pregnant herself in autumn 2018. “When I found out how forbidden it was here, I panicky,” she recalls. She bought a second test. When the staff returned “YES” again, she open the laptop to research her options.
In the spring of 2017
Julie move to the island in the Mediterranean. In Turkey, after the military coup in the summer of 2016, things became too cramp for her. In people’s minds and in the apartment with her husband, Adrian. Love had slip away like the air in a cheap helium balloon. Julie would have like a bang, a real ending. But it never came to that. To this day, the two shy away from telling their four-year-old son about their separation.
Julie had already found a new partner, but during Adrian’s visits the two still play the perfect family. Sometimes so believable that they even believe it a little and slept together again. When Julie got pregnant again in the fall of 2018, she wasn’t sure which of the two men would be the father. Neither of them would have found out about the pregnancy if Julie had been able to legally have an abortion.” My relationships should be a private matter” – says Julie -. The worst week of my life start.
Alone with the internet
When Julie enter “abortion Malta” into the search engine, she found: nothing. Instead of offers of advice, she found Catholic sites from self-proclaim “pro-life” activists. As a single mother with a full-time job – far from her family, without a stable partnership – she didn’t doubt her decision for a second. She took sick leave and spent a week in front of the computer, browsing forums and reading about alternative abortion methods.
She drank parsley broth by the gallon, ate ginger and papaya seeds, swallow more aspirin than her body could actually handle. “I was really thinking of a stereotypical cliffhanger scenario,” he says. He recalls: “I was determine that I could do anything. That week at home I had suicidal fantasies. My head was just spinning around this one thought: It has to go.” A friend finally told her how other women do it in Malta: They leave the island for an abortion.
Malta’s abortion law is the strictest in Europe. Catholicism is enshrine in the constitution as the state religion. While in other European countries such as Poland, Andorra or Monaco, abortion is permit if the mother’s life is in danger or if a violent crime has occur, in Malta the procedure remains illegal under these circumstances.
Women who can afford it fly to Germany, Belgium or Dubai for an abortion. Others take the ferry to Sicily, go to private clinics there and return to Malta the same day. According to estimates by the Maltese Green Party, around 300 to 500 women leave the island every year to have an abortion. A little over a year ago, however, the situation change drastically: Maltese women can now also order the abortion pill online. This has to do with a referendum on another island, 2,500 kilometers away: Ireland. On 25 May 2018, 66.4% of the Irish electorate vote to remove the absolute ban on abortion from the constitution. In its place, Ireland now has a law that allows abortion under certain conditions: during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and later if the mother’s life is in danger or certain abnormalities have been found in the fetus.
Since then, the UK-base Abortion Support Network (ASN) has also been offering its advice in Malta. Online and anonymous. A novelty on the Mediterranean island, where 90 percent of the residents identify as Catholic and there are as many churches as square kilometers. The morning-after pill has only been available in Malta for three years. The only 24-hour pharmacy on the island is one of many that won’t sell the morning-after pill “for moral reasons.”
The ASN network does not sell abortion pills. The latter are sent by Women on Web, an NGO registered in the Netherlands.
The abortion pills sent by the NGO Women on Web, on the other hand, are often intercept by customs. They come in inconspicuous, pad envelopes, shrink-wrap in silver foil, cover with stamps from all the countries through which they made their way to Malta. They are sometimes put in a toy box as camouflage. A leaflet is never include. This is emailed to the women together with a medical questionnaire.
“It’s always dangerous to order medication online,” says Elena Saliba, “you never know what you’re going to get.” The doctor works in the children’s department of the only state hospital in Malta. “We have thirteen-year-olds who have been rape, high-risk pregnancies and abnormalities in the embryos that lead to the certain death of the child at birth. However, we must not propose abortion as an option,” she says.