Most of you could probably not point to Malta on a map- located in the South of the Mediterranean, adjacent to Tunisia, and just below Italy, it is the last stronghold of anti-abortion extremism in Europe. There is a very good reason why I have chosen to use the word “extremism” here. This is not because I consider those that are pro-life to be extremists, but rather I consider the means in which such individuals treat those who are pro-choice on this island.

In Malta, abortion is not available under any circumstances- not even in the case of rape, incest, or if the woman’s life is in danger. In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, a section of the fallopian tubes is completely removed, thus not technically qualifying as an abortion. Any woman who has an abortion in the country, via any means can be imprisoned for three years and any medical professional who assists can lose their license to practice medicine, for life.

The morning after pill was only made legal less than two years ago, and any attempt to open up the debate results in an angry and sometimes violent reaction from the pro-life camp. Women who are publicly pro-choice are routinely harassed and abused. Comments range from calling them whores and prostitutes, to organized attacks on their Facebook pages, business pages, and even the pages of their family members.

One local activist told me “when I wrote an article in the national newspaper about being pro-choice, I received death threats. They also went after my 74-year-old mother and told her they wish she had been raped so she would have aborted me.” Another told me, “It got to the point where I was scared to post anymore because I was afraid of being recognized in public. They said I was not fit to call myself a woman and that I would burn in hell for my beliefs. ”There are also stories of 15-year-old girls being systematically harassed- having their images reposted and inviting others to contact her to tell her she is wrong. One such individual messaged her and compared her to Nazis because she “wants to exterminate babies like the Jews in the Holocaust.”

One local woman who traveled abroad for an abortion braved national television, giving an interview with her identity hidden. Within minutes of being posted on social media, there were hundreds of comments calling for her death and calling her every name under the sun.

Pro-choice women in Malta are systematically hunted down, abused, cyberbullied, cyberstalked, and intimidated into silence. They receive threats that their careers or businesses will be ruined, false rumors are circulated about them in an attempt to discredit, and

Public calls to harass them en masse which is common. As a result of this, many women do not speak up. Not only do they perform dangerous DIY abortions or have children that have resulted from traumatic circumstances, but they suffer psychologically as well. Even pro-choice women are too scared to stand up and have their voices heard for fear of losing their jobs, their friends, or being ostracised through targeted abuse.

The issue here is not the morality or ethics behind decriminalizing abortion, but rather the hypocrisy that women, and men, who stand up for their rights experience. Clearly, the irony of these individuals who claim to be pro-life, yet call for death of women, is lost on these extremists.

The attitude of these extremists is indicative of a patriarchal society that sees women as nothing more than a walking incubator. It reflects the attitude that men have towards women- that they are whores or prostitutes for being sexual beings, and it also highlights the lack of education on the basics of sex and contraception.

Abortion, or at least the decriminalization of it will come to this small Mediterranean island and it will probably happen sooner rather than later. What happens to these women who are being abused and vilified in public for their beliefs? In a country that saw the murder of a female journalist less than 12 months ago, many activists fear for their safety and their lives when they speak up.

One such activist told me: “I would never have an abortion personally, but then again I have never been in the situation where I might consider it. But that doesn’t mean I will not stand up for my sisters right to choose. You can never know what another woman passes through, and we can never walk a day in another’s shoes, and for that reason, we must allow choice.”

She added through gritted teeth: “Whilst the abuse suffered by many pro-choice voices leads to their silencing, I will not be silenced. I fully believe in what I say and the more abuse I get, the more I will shout louder about the injustices that face us as women. Bring it on.”