There are no official government issued statistics on abortion in Malta. Despite this lack of official data on such an important area of women's healthcare, it is estimated that the number of women who are ordinarily resident in Malta and have an abortion is at least 300 a year. This estimate is based on patchy and incomplete data and a number of assumptions, and it is likely to understimate the true number of women seeking abortion.
We know for certain that over the last 10 years, an average of 57 women from Malta had an abortion in England or Wales each year. This is based on official data provided by the UK government.
However, this cannot be the complete number of women from Malta who travel abroad for an abortion each year. The UK government statistic only includes England and Wales, not the whole United Kingdom. It is also a known fact that Italy is a major destination for women resident in Malta seeking abortions, but unfortunately Italy does not publish any useful data on abortion based on country of residence. Women who are not holders of an EU/EEA/UK passport may require a visa to visit the UK, and these third country nationals usually have to stay within the Schengen area when travelling for abortion. From information provided to us by Abortion Support Network, a number of women from Malta who have difficulty travelling to the UK are choosing the Netherlands as their destination, due to the Netherlands having a gestational limit of 21 weeks in most cases, higher than many other countries.
Pro-choice organisations in Malta generally agree on the assumption that the number of women from Malta who have abortions in other countries (except England and Wales) is at least as high as the number having abortions in England and Wales. This produces a conservative estimate of at least 100 women from Malta travelling abroad for an abortion each year.
Next, one has to analyse the other major way women in Malta obtain an abortion - by ordering abortion pills online which are then consumed in Malta. The Women's Rights Foundation, in their position paper on reproductive rights published in 2018, stated that through personal communication with Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of Women on Web, they were informed that Women on Web assists around 100 clients from Malta each year.
This figure is likely to be only a fraction of the true number of women who use abortion pills in Malta. Women on Web is one of two major organisations that send abortion pills to clients in Malta - the other being Women Help Women. Women Help Women does not release information on the number of clients helped. Furthermore, apart from contacting these two organisations, there are several other ways women in Malta can obtain abortion pills, as a simple internet search will show.
Therefore, pro-choice organisations generally agree on the assumption that the number of women in Malta using abortion pills each year is at least twice as high as the figure of clients helped by Women on Web. Hence a consevative estimate would be of 200 women in Malta obtaining abortion pills each year. Added to the number of women travelling abroad, this produces the total of at least 300 women resident in Malta having an abortion each year.
The COVID-19 pandemic provided a new opportunity to investigate the number of women in Malta who have abortions. During the pandemic, Malta closed its airport to almost all travellers for three months in the first half of 2020. This made travelling abroad for an abortion more difficult, but not impossible. From data provided to us by the two main organisations that send abortion pills to Malta, we can confirm that during two months of lockdown when travel restrictions were in place, 56 women in Malta were sent abortion pills. Extrapolating this data over a year gives a figure of 336 abortions. Once again, this data is likely to be an underestimate because there are other ways women in Malta can obtain abortion pills, and we are also aware of cases where women were able to travel abroad for an abortion despite the travel restrictions in force.
The data provided to us during the COVID-19 pandemic is fairly strong evidence that the figure of 300 abortions a year is a significant underestimate.
It is also important to make comparisons with Ireland - a country with formerly strict abortion laws that were recently reformed - where women also sought abortions by travelling to the UK and ordering abortion pills from organisations including Women on Web. Therefore, the sources of data to produce estimates for the abortion numbers in Ireland prior to legalisation were the same as the ones used for Malta above. Following the legalisation of abortion in Ireland and the publication of the first full year of legal abortion statistics, it became clear that the estimates of abortion numbers prior to legalisation were significant underestimates. It is therefore also likely that our estimates for Malta are similarly under the mark.
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