Dr Chris Barbara: The mental health aspects of abortion
Hello, my name is Chris Barbara and I work as a doctor in mental health. I thought I’d spend the next few minutes taking about why I’m pro-choice, and why I believe women in Malta should have the same right to decide on their pregnancy and future, as women in other European countries.
I have to say I did not always identify as pro-choice. When I qualified as a doctor in 2012 I towed the line as the majority of the population and believed that abortion is wrong and should not be considered, let alone practised. However, when I started working in mental health I came across real cases of women, some of them underage girls, going through unwanted pregnancy, and I quickly realised what devastating effects an unwanted pregnancy can have on women’s health and lives.
The main thing I learnt in my practice is that women are more than capable of making a choice on whether to continue a pregnancy, and they should be allowed to make this choice. We know, even through studies, that the vast majority of women never regret having an abortion, and abortion provides a sense of relief to these women, something which I have also seen in my practice.
It is often claimed that abortion harms women and their mental health. This is not true. Several studies have been conducted, including by the Royal College of Psychiatrists of which I am a member, that show no link between abortion itself in mental illness. On the other hand, other studies have shown that denying women abortions has negative impacts on their mental health and social wellbeing. It also goes without saying that abortion stigma and society considering women who have had abortions “murderers” will have very negative effects on the mental wellbeing of women who needed to have an abortion for any reason.
We never thought we would be marking the first anniversary of Doctors for Choice in this manner. Equally, women in Malta with unwanted pregnancy have never thought they would find themselves in this situation. Women who used to be able to travel abroad for abortion are now having to desperately search for abortion pills. These women are being driven to desperation, and some are contemplating suicide, and this is not right.
The World Health Organisation and the European Parliament are two international organisations that have called for states to ensure abortion access during the pandemic. Our government needs to listen, and needs to consider the suffering these women are going through. As an organisation we will continue doing our best to raise awareness, and to fight for the rights of these women who are neglected by our society. Thank you.
By Dr Chris Barbara