Prof Isabel Stabile: Abortion from a Maltese Gynaecologist's Perspective
"On this first anniversary of the setting up of Doctors for Choice, I would like to first of all thank two junior doctors working in Malta, Dr Alexander Clayman and Dr Matthew Drake, as well as two others currently working in the UK, Dr Chris Barbara and Dr Gilbert Gravino, who together took the brave step of coming out in the public eye as pro-choice. Thanks to these plucky young doctors, we now have a platform that allows Maltese medical and lay population to engage with the subject of abortion, one that has been taboo for as long as I have been alive.
I would like to explain why I am pro-choice. I am a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and I follow its evidence based guidelines in my medical practice. One of these guidelines is that access to abortion is an essential element of care. This is also the position of Doctors for Choice.
I firmly believe that the lack of abortion services on the island means our medical authorities are falling short of the highest evidence based standards recommended by international guidelines. This is why as Doctors for Choice we firstly advocate for comprehensive sexual education.
I also believe that sexual education and access to free or low cost family planning services are both crucial aspects of reproductive healthcare, and the provision of affordable contraception.
As you may know, our current laws prohibit abortion in all situations, including where a woman's physical or mental health are jeopardised by the pregnancy. There are no exceptions when the woman's life is at risk from for example complications arising directly from the pregnancy. Similarly, there are no provisions to allow the possibility of abortion in cases where the pregnancy results from rape or incest or in cases of severe congenital abnormalities.
I would like to say that in my view, prolonging life in fetuses where death is inevitable, for example in the case of anencephaly which is where the baby is found to have little or no brain, may well be very harmful to the psychological wellbeing of the mother. She will watch her baby die within a few hours of birth.
I strongly believe that women in these situations should have the right to decide to end the pregnancy with no legal repercussions whatsoever. Similarly, blanket bans on abortion with criminal sanctions on us as doctors naturally make most of us very reluctant to end the pregnancy in the rare situation that a woman's life is at risk, for example due to widespread infection.
I strongly believe that women who find themselves pregnant have a right to be fully informed by her doctors about all the options that are possible, including continuing with the pregnancy, giving the baby up for adoption, and abortion.
Women in Malta will continue to seek out abortion abortion whether it is legal or not. Indeed our current draconian laws that ban abortion do not stop abortions from happening. The law only stops women who cannot travel, either for financial reasons or because they do not have an appropriate visa or in this current pandemic because the airports are closed.
In summary, the very vast majority of the developed world and virtually all international medical organisations, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of which I am proud to be a Fellow, support the availability of safe, legal abortion, because this is an essential part of healthcare.
Please join us in advocating for changes in the law to allow this to happen. Thank you."
By Prof Isabel Stabile