Admitting you are pro-choice remains isolating in Malta, with only 18% of its population supporting decriminalisationWomen's Rights Foundation with permission for Varsity

Whilst the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has inspired outcry in the British media, a case closer to home has not enjoyed the same press coverage. Malta, the idyllic Mediterranean archipelago of my ancestors, is also the only country in the European Union to prohibit abortion entirely.

Maltese culture is a rich blend of influences brought by many successive invaders and colonial powers. Overhearing the local dialect makes instantly apparent the imprint of its Arab heritage – it is the only official Semitic language of the EU, though written in the Latin alphabet. A stroll through its ancient streets also reveals the historical relationship between my family’s two nations, for Malta was a British colony for over 150 years. Today, many locals switch between Maltese and English mid-sentence. But, despite these ties, as I sit in an NGO’s office in Santa Venera listening to colleagues discussing the grim reality here, my phone chimes with updates from the British press on developments from the US. I can’t help but question why Brits do not share the same outrage at the struggle for Maltese reproductive rights.

Perhaps this boils down to a lack of foreign awareness of the severity of the situation. In Malta, abortion is completely illegal. Completely – this means no exceptions, even when the carrier’s health is at risk, nor in cases of rape, incest, or severe foetal malformation. It is the only country in the EU to prohibit abortion absolutely, and has some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world. As Washington wrestles with the abhorrent implications of the ruling for child victims of rape, the Times of Malta brazenly platforms arguments like “children conceived from rape do not deserve the death penalty”. The trauma of surviving rape and getting pregnant as a result is compounded to an unimaginable degree by having the state affirm your lack of bodily autonomy in such absolute terms.

Admitting you are pro-choice remains isolating, with a survey last year finding only 18% of the Maltese population supports the decriminalisation of abortion, rising to 32.5% for those aged 16 to 35. Still, this represents a strikingly low proportion when compared with the younger pro-choice demographic in the UK and US. Malta has much to be proud of, with some of the most progressive laws on LGBTQ+ rights, but its overwhelmingly anti-choice stance is a dark stain on the nation’s human rights record.

Malta’s overwhelmingly anti-choice stance is a dark stain on the nation’s human rights record

A closer look at education in Malta offers a compelling explanation for these figures. In some schools, children as young as 14 are shown “barbaric” compilation videos of long metal instruments graphically poking and prodding at aborted foetuses. Such practices are encouraged by the national religious studies syllabus, which includes a class on “The Value of Life”, reflecting the entrenchment of the Roman Catholic faith in the constitution of a purportedly secular state. Mass miseducation has followed, with an exceptionally grotesque view of abortion embedded in much of the Maltese public imagination.

But blanket bans do not prevent abortions. We cannot know exactly how many people in Malta undergo abortions, but a conservative estimate suggests at least 100 people from Malta travel abroad for abortions each year, and a further 200 obtain abortion pills. We can estimate that there is, at minimum, an abortion every day, not least because going abroad is not always an option for lower income groups. Those ordering pills also fear potential repercussions when seeking help for medical complications – although these individuals should seek necessary support and informed that doctors cannot reliably tell the difference between miscarriage and abortion. Abortion bans are not just ineffective – they also make abortion far more dangerous.

Readers in Britain should not dismiss this as an isolated case of backwards foreign legislation. The rollback of protected reproductive rights in the US is not the only indicator that this crisis is real and just as relevant to Brits. Very recently, the UK government covertly removed commitments to reproductive rights from an international statement on gender equality, thereby adhering to a quietly-altered version with only 8 of the original 22 signatories - including Malta. This alone should send alarm bells ringing, but it also shows the importance of raising awareness about Maltese reproductive rights in the UK. If not only for the sake of oppressed Maltese people, it is in the interest of Britain to demand change from the Maltese government: its history, and now its future, are bound to our own.

I urge Britons to share and discuss this information. Look out for Maltese activists to support, and petitions to sign. I turn to a British audience in part because we have the privilege of engaging in pro-choice activism that the Maltese cannot without risking political and social consequences.

As I decided whether I should publish this article anonymously, I remembered the advice of a colleague which had stuck with me: one of the most impactful forms of activism for the Maltese is to (bravely) be open about their pro-choice stance. I proudly sign off with my Maltese surname, and demand the freedom to choose.